William Shakespeare had two wives, both named Anne, one of whom was the dark lady of the sonnets, this mainstream historical romance declares.
Prolific historical novelist Harper (The Hooded Hawke, 2007, etc.) offers an unexceptional mix of biography and politics in this account of historical figure Anne Whateley, who grew up in Stratford as a friend of Shakespeare despite the bad blood between their two families. Brave, clever and beautiful, with dark good looks inherited from her Italian mother, Whateley becomes Shakespeare’s lover and muse. She is betrothed to Shakespeare, but the revelation of Anne Hathaway’s pregnancy forces Shakespeare to marry the other woman instead. Heartbroken, Whateley moves to London, but she later feels enough loyalty to warn the Shakespeares of political peril. Her love/hate relationship with Shakespeare resumes when he arrives in London, now an actor and fledgling playwright. She inspires his sonnets and also Love’s Labours Lost, which she helps him finish and sell, and offers all manner of assistance including helping him find a patron and rescuing him from a blaze at the Globe Theatre. Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Dee, Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth I pass through the novel’s pages, while the plays and poetry come sequentially into being. Harper supplies a busy panorama of Elizabethan London and its intrigues, however her emphasis on Whateley’s role diminishes the genius of the playwright.
Meandering and conventional, but capable.