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The Dark Lady

"An exhilarating Elizabethan adventure featuring a London boy of Beninese heritage who has a magical gift for language"

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LoveReading4Kids Says

LoveReading4Kids Says

March 2022 Debut of the Month

Ablaze with atmosphere and adventure, Akala’s The Dark Lady is a radiant, resonant tale of magic, a missing mother, and treachery in Elizabethan London.

Fifteen-year-old Henry lives in poverty in the care of a pair of apothecary sisters. A skilled thief and writer of sonnets, he has an additional extraordinary gift — he “can close his eyes and read languages”. Letters become “colours, shapes, sounds and musical notes. Always a different pattern emerged and it was endlessly beautiful”. And, with brown skin inherited from his absent Beninese mother, Henry is subject to racism, with England’s insularity and prejudice pertinently portrayed — the rhetoric of foreigners “stealing jobs” is all too familiar.

At the same time, there’s a seamless interweaving of Black history. For example, Henry is amazed to learn about Juan Latino, “a son of slaves who rose to become a professor of Latin at the University of Granada”. Then there’s reference to John Blanke, the famed black trumpeter from Henry VII’s court.

Caught in the act of burgling a wealthy duke, Henry’s language magic earns him a seat at the duke’s opulent table, and grants him an audience with historic figures like Dr John Dee and his idol, Shakespeare. With a wicked sense of humour and pride, Henry is an enormously endearing young man, not least when he rubs his fine clothes and fancy talk in the face of a bigoted baker who previously refused to serve him. With the action never letting up, a succession of betrayal, intensifying dreams and discoveries about his mother steer Henry towards a land across the sea. Simply fabulous.

Joanne Owen

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