His Dark Lady
Lucy Morgan, an exotic beauty of African descent and the ward of a spy in Sir Francis Walsingham’s employ, is Queen Elizabeth’s pet singer and dancer – or is she? The queen is notoriously fickle in her favour, and Lucy’s star, both as an entertainer and as the girl who once helped save Elizabeth’s life, seems to be setting. Lucy herself seems to be bent on her own ruin by assisting Lord Leicester in his secret marriage to the ambitious Lettice Knollys, and allowing in her bed the impetuous, penniless and very married Will Shakespeare, a would-be playwright who calls her his dark muse. Meanwhile, Catholic plots to remove Elizabeth from the throne thicken, fuelled by King Philip of Spain and the imprisoned Mary Stuart.
The second volume in a trilogy, this novel is yet another guess at the identity of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, and a colourful, engaging glimpse of Elizabethan England, complete with playhouses, royal palaces, river barges and workshops. I must admit a few doubts (Father Ballard disembarking in London in his priest’s robes?) and an inability to like Lamb’s thoughtless, shallow Shakespeare – but the atmosphere and the other characters were a real delight, first of all the ageing, lonely, capricious and unreasonable Elizabeth. Recommended.