From Publishers Weekly
On November 27, 1582, the Worcester archives show a grant for a marriage license for one Anne Whateley and her groom, Wm Shaxpere. Yet several days later, William Shakespeare married a pregnant Anne Hathaway. Harper's slack latest takes this mystery as its subject, imagining Anne Whateley as Shakespeare's only true love. Friends from childhood driven apart by their families' antipathy, Will and Anne rediscover each other as they come of age, and the young lovers plan to wed in spite of their families' disapproval. When Will is forced into marriage with Anne Hathaway, Anne Whateley flees to London and throws herself into her family's business, but the two reunite when Will arrives in London, and Anne becomes his tireless promoter. The novel's chief pleasures derive from the easy intersection of Shakespeare's work, the history of Elizabethan England and the life that the author imagines Shakespeare might have had. Though the Bard's language infuses the story with life, the emotions underlying the lovers' ruptures and reunions feel repetitive, and because there is never any question about how the romance plays out, the central narrative feels flat. (Feb.)
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Among the many mysteries of Shakespeare’s life is a marriage license issued to him and one Anne Whateley shortly before he wed Anne Hathaway. Harper spins this mystery into a novel about Shakespeare’s true love, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. In Harper’s telling, Anne Whateley and Shakespeare are childhood friends, but after the Hathaway marriage, Whateley goes to London and makes a life for herself as a businesswoman. When the playwright embarks on his London phase, she is there, engaged in Will’s world and helping to advance his career. Harper, who writes a mystery series featuring Elizabeth I as a sleuth, knows her period well, and it shows, sometimes in the form of awkward expository dialogue but more often in sure handling of the details of politics, theater, and daily life, including some harrowing passages featuring childbirth and the plague. Though Shakespeare himself remains a cipher, Anne is an appealing and spirited heroine, and her tale will be enjoyed by historical-fiction fans. --Mary Ellen Quinn