This novel is the second to feature the lead character Lucy Morgan, the first being The Queen's Secret.
This is another very enjoyable historical tale weaving fiction with real characters and detail from history, most notably Queen Elizabeth I, and a certain young playwright going by the name of Will Shakespeare. The story is set in the 1580s. Lucy is the dark lady of the title, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, liked for her singing voice, she met the young Shakespeare briefly in the first novel, and here she becomes his muse. Several other characters from the first book make a welcome reappearance here, including Lucy's guardian Goodluck, once more involved in danger and intrigue. We learn that Lucy witnessed the secret marriage of Robert Dudley, beloved favourite of the Queen, to her cousin Lettice Knollys, and concealing her presence there from the Queen weighs heavily on Lucy's mind.
I enjoyed catching up with these characters again, they had stayed in my mind after the first novel in the series, in particular Lucy and Goodluck, and I was curious and excited to revisit their world and discover what adventures they would be involved in next. I was also gripped and intrigued by how the author portrayed Elizabeth during these turbulent times in her reign; her hopes and her health as she gets older, her ongoing feelings for Leicester, whose 'marriage was still a wound in her side', the threats on her life from those intent on removing her and installing Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne and the resulting doubts as to who in her circle she can really trust. It's always interesting to see how an author depicts people from history when creating fiction, and I was intrigued by Victoria Lamb's take on Shakespeare, although how he behaves here might not leave you quite so fond of him!
I liked how the narrative moved between the different threads of the tale, focusing on the main characters Lucy, Goodluck, Shakespeare and the Queen; this added tension and kept me turning the pages to find out how each strand developed.
It's an imaginative, entertaining and dramatic tale read on its own. Having said that, I'd recommend reading The Queen's Secret first ideally, so that you can follow through the stories of each character more fully. I liked the author's notes at the end separating the fact from the fiction.
The third part in the trilogy is due to be published early in 2014 and is entitled Her Last Assassin.