Flap copy from ARC:
"Elizabethan beauty Anne Whateley records intimate details of her dangerous, daring life and her great love, William Shakespeare. As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton is betrothed to Will just days before he is forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway. The secret Whateley-Shakespeare match is a meeting of hearts and heads that no one- not even Queen Elizabeth or her spymasters- can destroy. Often at odds, always in love, the couple sells Will's first plays, and as he climbs to theatrical power in England, they fight off firce competition from other London dramatists, some as treacherous as they are talented. Persecution and plague, insurrection and inferno, friends and foes, even executions of those they hold dear, bring Anne's heartrending story to life."
I know little about the actual historical basis for this novel, but certainly enjoyed this take on Shakespeare in love. Ann Whateley is a strong woman in the cast of Elizabeth I herself, and her independence and creativity serve as Shakespeare's inspiration for many of his works. I was less delighted with her willingness to accept the poor behavior meted out by her true love, though the author did do a good job capturing the duality of Anne's feelings of love and hate.
Will Shakespeare is presented as a flawed man first, undeniable genius second. His efforts to write while earning enough to support his growing family are complicated by the complex political situation that thrives on suspicion and uncertainty. In the end, Shakespeare chooses to live in London and to write with his love, but he never really seems to acknowledge the harm he has done to both of the women in his life.
At heart, this novel is a love story, and it succeeds as such. Unfortunately, Harper falls into the trap of attempting quasi-period speech and her efforts fall flat. I found that when the characters lapsed into period language, the entire momentum of the narrative came to a halt. If it hadn't been for the language, I would have gone 4 stars, but as it is can only give this novel 3.5 stars.