Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 28 February 2014

Her Last Assassin - Victoria Lamb - Author Guest Post

I am very pleased to welcome author Victoria Lamb to the blog today!

Her novel, HER LAST ASSASSIN is published by Bantam on February 27th 2014.

William Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ of the Sonnets
A guest post by author Victoria Lamb

William Shakespeare is best known for his plays, but he also wrote poems, most notably love sonnets. Those traditionally numbered from 127-152 are known as his 'Dark Lady' sequence, and indicate the existence of a female muse whom Shakespeare both insults and worships by turns. This ‘dark lady’ forms the basis of my Tudor court entertainer Lucy Morgan in Her Last Assassin (and the previous two books in my trilogy, The Queen’s Secret and His Dark Lady).

So was there ever a 'Dark Lady' in Shakespeare’s private life, and what does the epithet ‘dark’ signify anyway?

Experts tend to disagree about both these points. Some believe Shakespeare's mystery lover was a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty at the Elizabethan court. But she may have been a poetic device, an imaginary Muse, written with no specific woman in mind. As for her colouring, some experts believe ‘dark’ indicates a dark skin or Moorish descent, while others consider it poetic shorthand for ‘brunette’.

If the latter, Mary Fitton, maid of honour to Elizabeth I, is a likely candidate, especially given her reputation for promiscuity – some of his more insulting sonnets complain about her lack of fidelity. But other historians take Shakespeare's descriptions of his mistress more literally, believing her to have been exotic and dark-skinned. The poet Emilia Lanier is another possible candidate: a notorious Tudor beauty, Emilia was descended from Venetian Jews, and may have inspired Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, and the character of Rosalind in Love's Labour's Lost.

Another possibility is Lucy Morgan, one of Elizabeth's lesser-known ladies at court, whom some historians have associated with a dark-skinned 'Lucy Negra' of more dubious fame. According to records, Lucy Morgan lived at court and married a Thomas Parker in the late 1500s. Athough the sonnets were probably written later, that is no reason to assume they were not retrospective. And marriage to another man would fit, given how angrily Shakespeare refers to her cruelty, claiming she teased him and would not return his love, but loved another instead. 

There are other explanations. It could be that Shakespeare was deliberately writing anti-romantic sonnets, and a ‘dark’ mistress made a stronger contrast with the pale beauty of Elizabeth I. After all, Sonnet 131 finishes with the assertion, 'In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.’ Yet people of colour were far from unknown in Tudor England, as demonstrated by a 1575 painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder which depicts a group of black musicians and entertainers performing before Queen Elizabeth. 

None of this proves that Shakespeare's mistress was dark-skinned, of course, nor that she existed outside the poet's imagination. But since we have no absolute proof that she was not dark-skinned, it's been exciting to assume in my Tudor trilogy that Lucy Morgan was both black and Shakespeare’s mistress – and to speculate on how their fiery relationship might have unfolded.

About the novel...

Will love or loyalty conquer?

Lady-in-waiting Lucy Morgan is once again torn between her dangerous attraction to William Shakespeare and her loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I.

England is facing its gravest threat yet. The Spanish have declared war, and Elizabeth finds herself attacked by sea – and by Catholic conspiracy from within her own court. Master Goodluck goes undercover, tasked with discovering the identity of this secret assassin, leaving his ward Lucy not knowing if the spy is alive or dead. 

Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth is growing old in a court of troublesome young noblemen, while Lucy is struggling to love a man whose duties lie elsewhere.

When the final challenge comes, these two women must be ready to face it. But there is one last surprise in store for both of them …

About the author...

Victoria Lamb is a novelist with two historical series from Random House set in the Tudor era, one for adults (Bantam) and one for Young Adult readers (Corgi).

She also writes poetry and literary fiction as Jane Holland, and adult romance asElizabeth Moss.

Born in Essex in the mid-sixties, Victoria is the middle daughter of bestselling novelist Charlotte Lamb and the classical biographer Richard Holland. When the family later moved to the peaceful Isle of Man, Victoria was brought up in rural surroundings in a home full of books.

She returned to England for her education as an adult, and married there. While living in Warwickshire, affectionately known as Shakespeare Country, she began writing The Queen's Secret, a novel set at nearby Kenilworth Castle during an epic visit by Queen Elizabeth I in 1575.

Victoria now lives in Cornwall with her husband, four of her five children, and a highly energetic Irish Red Setter. In her leisure time, she has been known to write poetry and go for long walks across the moors. She writes other kinds of fiction under various names, and as a former Warwick Poet Laureate, her poetry is published under the name Jane Holland.

Read my reviews of... 
The Queen's Secret 
His Dark Lady

Visit the other blogs on the tour...

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