Leonardo's Swans
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Leonardo's Swans

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  3,275 ratings  ·  206 reviews
LEONARDO'S SWANS is the story of the powerful Este sisters, Beatrice, Duchess of Milan, and Isabella, Marchesa of Mantua, as they compete for the affections of Italy's most influential prince, the Duke of Milan, and for the larger prize, to be immortalized in oil by his court painter and engineer, Leonardo da Vinci. Sexy, inspiring, and intelligent, her story of love, intr...more
Published January 10th 2006 by Random House Audio (first published January 1st 2006)
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I'm on the fence about this book. Let's start with what I did like about it.
I loved the detailed descriptions of Leonardo da Vinci, his demeanor, his painting process, and his artwork. There were many quotations supposedly taken directly from his writings throughout the book and I loved that. He was my favorite character in the book.
I liked the way the relationship between the two sisters was portrayed, as intricate and complex- making it feel very real. They are frequently jealous and manipulat...more
This review first appeared in the May 2006 issue of The Historical Novels Review, Editor's Choice)

Leonardo da Vinci has become quite popular these days, as has the historical novel featuring an intrepid woman ahead of her time, with an abiding interest in Art. Doubleday is clearly capitalizing on these facts in marketing Karen Essex's novel, LEONARDO'S SWANS. The strategy will undoubtedly sell books, but it does not begin to do justice to Essex's haunting account of the sibling rivalry between...more
Mundane, lackluster, cure for insomnia... this book was ridiculously BORING! How Essex managed to take intriguing people in a period of time that has inspired countless writers to genius and transformed it into a piece of work that worked like a sleeping pill is beyond me!

The book being entitled "Leonardo's Swans" is terribly deceptive. One would think that the novel would make this artist and true Renaissance man a leading character. One would be sadly mistaken. How can you take, arguably, the...more
Read this review on my blog, here

Leonardo's Swans
by Karen Essex

Steeped in the excitement and dangers of 15th Century Renaissance Italy, Leonardo’s Swans was a fascinating book. It covered a vast array of historical events, from the rising tensions amongst the unstable Italian city-states, to the French invasion of Italy by Charles VIII, to the election of the corrupt Borgia Pope to the Vatican. The book had its occasional anachronism, but as a whole, I think fans of historical fiction who like a...more
Bethany Andrews
Eh. I usually really like books in this genre, but this one wasn't the best..it starts out really good but then it goes straight downhill and drags on and on...I was pretty disappointed all in all. I was excited to read this one, as its about DaVinci..but like I said, it wasn't what I had hoped for. If this is a genre you're interested in, let me know and I can recommend several that are much more entertaining and well written.

The story centers around two sisters and the seperate lives they lea...more
Disappointing. Glad I found it on the Barnes bargain table. The story of the D'Este sisters is lovely...so, how can you really mess up a European history novel for a Renaissance lover? Inconsistency in writing! It was rather aggravating to read Essex's transition from modern to period consistent vernacular. Honestly, do you think Beatrice D'Este would say "creepy?" Beyond the writing, the excerpts from Da Vinci's notebooks - I really wanted to understand how these added to the story, but that to...more
While I loved learning about these women and their influence over some of the world's greatest art, I am tired of reading books that evolve so much around sex. Call me a simpleton if you must, but there it is.
Erika Robuck
Set in Renaissance Italy, LEONARDO’S SWANS is an epic tale of sibling rivalry, ambition, politics, art, and love. Isabella d’Este is the primary point of view character. She is incredibly talented, beautiful, and shrewd. She is pleased with her betrothed until she realizes that the betrothed of her younger sister, Beatrice, is not only a better match for her in intellect and passions, but is also the patron of the genius Leonardo da Vinci. Isabella’s obsession with art makes her consumed with de...more
Nagyon tetszett ez a könyv. Minden olyan jellegű regényt szeretek, amiben történelmi alakokat ismertet meg az író és nem csupán száraz adatokat halmoz, hanem megpróbálja szemléltetni a mindennapjaikat, érzelmeiket, hisz így közelebb kerülnek az olvasóhoz, és nem pusztán egy híres halott lesz, hanem egy ember, emberi vonásokkal.
Két fantasztikus nőről olvashatunk a könyvben Isabelláról és Beatricéről és körülöttük megelevenedik az 1500-as évek Itáliája, művészek, hadvezérek, ruhadivat, szokások....more
Rio (Lynne)
Isabella of Este was betrothed by fate to the wrong man. She believes her sister, Beatrice's husband Ludovico Sforza , was more suitable for her. Ludovico the Duke of Milan, loved power, art and wanted to be famous, just like Isabella. Beatrice on the other hand just wanted to be loved. I enjoyed this book because it takes you through the years of Leonardo da Vinci's best work. I enjoyed the relationship between Ludovico and Leonardo. I think the author did a great job bringing us the essence of...more
I enjoyed this book especially because I visited Milan and was awestruck by the Last Supper painting. Though I remember the mural opposite it in the same room and our guide pointed out the fact that the Sforza family was painted in the scene I am regretful that the mural opposite caused me to miss looking at it closely. Very informative book about the Renaissance but I long for perhaps a little more fictional approach to the characters. We don't have video/audio cameras from the 1400s so why not...more
Annie Walker
I have pretty mixed feelings about this book. The writing is just so-so, the plot can be really interesting at certain points, but then drags terribly in other parts- especially at the end.

It reads a bit like a cheezy romance novel in many ways. According to the Author, all women (even in their jealousy, discontentment, and anger) act selflessly, graciously, mercifully, or at least kindly and generously while all the men act purely out of selfishness, conceit, pride, and cowardliness.

I liked so...more
Patricia Bracewell
Set in DaVinci's Florence, this book had me consulting the internet to look at the 2 sisters -- countesses -- who were the subject of this novel. That's always a good thing -- when a reader wants to know more.

The writing was good, the imagining -- about their lives, affections, intrigues -- more than adequate. So why did I not find them emotionally appealing? Wish I knew.
Morgan Lee
I read this book a few years ago, and liked it a lot more then. I don't know why I didn't notice the things that I disliked so much this time before, but they seemed glaringly evident during this read. Don't get me wrong, historically and setting wise, this book was wonderful, and in my opinion, the male character were done fairly well. The female characters who lead the story however, were not so. I felt as though their relationships and feelings towards one another were too quickly changing an...more
Ever since they were little girls Isabella and Beatrice d'Este were betrothed to very different men. Isabella's fiance is to take her to the country, to the estate of a family knows for breeding the best horses in Italy and she was to become a marquesa. Beatrice's betrothed is a learned man, the regent to the duke of Milan, a renown patron of the arts, a politician like no other and one day Beatrice may become a duchess of greatest city-state in Italy. It's too bad that Isabella has a brilliant...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Another historical novel; this time Fifteenth Century Italy. Or rather the collection of city states that will eventually become Italy. Our heroines are Isabella d’Este and her sister Beatrice. One marries a Duke and one a Marquis and begin a rivalry for supremacy in the courts of Europe. Isabella is desperate to sit for the great and amazing Magistro Leonardo, but he currently is working for her sister’s husband, Ludovico Sforza. The struggle to get Leonard to stay focused on one project and se...more
Althea Ann
Reading this recent historical fiction novel was a very strange experience – it's based on the same historical facts as another book, ‘Duchess of Milan' by Michael Ennis – which I love. So reading this book was almost like re-reading ‘Duchess'... but feeling that everything, has, somehow, changed... Although, I believe, factually accurate, Essex's book is much less flattering to her characters, I believe. Both focus on the two sisters, Beatrice and Isabella d'Este, who were prominent players in...more

Oh my God, where do I start?

I couldn't have read this book at a better time. I'd just finished the rough draft of a research paper on Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine, so I found it fascinating to read about the people and places that I'd spent so much time researching.

Alright, the characters:

Isabella - Such a complex character. Scheming, cunning, yet loving, she does not want to see anything bad happen to her sister Beatrice, yet she is also extremely j...more
Jeansue Libkind
It says something that Leonardo is a mere bit-player, despite the title. In 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci paints, sculpts, and designs weapons for Lodovico Sforza as the French initiate their takeover of northern Italy. Two of the four “swans” he paints, sisters Isabella d’Este and Beatrice d’Este, will become the Marchesa of Mantua and the Duchess of Milan. In those positions, they will patronize the arts, run city-states, set fashion, bear children and control, contrive and contribute to the...more
While this wasn't an entirely bad novel (I even enjoyed parts), there were a few things that kept it from being great:

1. The characters were just half-baked. They weren't fully developed enough for me to understand their motives or for me to sympathize with them. I didn't even hate the characters that I think I was supposed to hate because they didn't come off as villainous at all without other characters telling me about how bad they were. Speaking of telling me...

2. This book was basically AL...more
My rating does not reflect my enjoyment of this book. I seldom leave books unfinished, but I almost stopped reading Leonardo's Swans with about seventy pages remaining. I love historical fiction and am fascinated by this time period, but this story is executed poorly. It starts off nicely but begins to drag at around page 150 and get increasingly frustrating with each page, especially once it becomes clear that the author will not be fleshing out her promising characters any further. The titular...more
Sean Wylie
Set in early Renaissance Italy this book provides an intimate, engaging, and un-told story of the role of women in power during this fascinating point in history. All the character, settings, situations are true to history with the dialogue and interaction fictionalize and dramatized by the story teller. This is a piece of historical fiction that follows 2 beautiful sisters born as princesses of one of the many Italian city states that existed in the 14th century. They are promised in marriage a...more
This book explores the possible emotional life of two sisters, daughters of the Duke of Ferrara and a princess of Naples, who were raised to enhance Ferrara through marriage.

How DID Isabella d'Este, greatest female patron of the arts of her time feel about being sketched, not painted, by the great DiVinci? How did she feel that her sister, who may not have been her intellectual equal, who had married into a more powerful family, was indeed painted by "the Magistro"?

Karen Essex sketches the possi...more
Susan Kelley
May 30, 2008 Susan Kelley rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history lovers or art lovers
Leonardo's Swans is the engrossing tale of the d'Este sisters, Isabella and Beatrice, daughters of the Duke of Ferrara. They were competitors in everything, from art to fashion to love.

The book takes place primarily in the late 1400s in Italy. Isabella is married off to Francesco, Duke of Mantua while Beatrice is sent to be the wife of Ludovico Sforza, regent to his nephew, the Duke of Milan.

Even after their marriages, the girls are still great rivals. Isabella even goes so far as to begin a rel...more
Thought I was going to hate it but ended up loving it. A story of two sisters. A story of Leonardo da Vinci. Check it out.


The story revolves around two sisters, Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. Isabella is the typical blond gorgeous beauty. And Beatrice is the younger, more wild and less traditionally beautiful sister. At first Isabella is ecstatic that she is engaged to handsome young Marquess of Mantua. And they are actually in love with each other. And poor Beatrice. She is engaged to t...more
I loved this audiobook! The audiobook is set in the late 15th Century, and is a historical fiction book about politics, art and history of the Renaissance. It features some of the most famous families in Italy, including the Gonzagas of Mantua, Sforza/Visconti of Milan, and the D'Este of Ferrara. I found the main characters, Isabella & Beatrice D'Este, Leonardo Da Vinci and Ludovico Sforza. There were excerpts of Leonardo's notebooks and I liked how in depth they got about the art (esp as I...more
Jennifer Mccann
Frankly the title is a bit misleading. Leonardo is a minor character. His "swans" really have nothing to do with him.

Sisters Beatrice and Isabelle d'Este are married off to men who should have been the other's husband. Or so the book tells us. Yet... Isabella, the intellectual, is rather superficial and self centered, her one goal throughout the book is to pose for Leonardo Da'Vinci. Beatrice, the ordinary girl, is a much more complex and deeper character, even though the book takes great pains...more
This book is about what I would call battle of the betters, between two sisters who are constantly trying to out-do each other in any way possible. The sisters Isabella and Beatrice are strong in their own ways but are always trying to bring out the others weakness, even after both are married and completing successes of their own, which they make sure to point out to the other sister. Beatrice waits forever for her fiancé to actually set a marriage date, where in contrast Isabella gets married...more
I enjoyed this book for a couple of reasons. The way the author wove in descriptions of Leonardo's sketches and paintings was great fun for me as an art lover. Bringing this volatile time of Italy's past to life, as well as the artist Leonardo, was very captivating. What was even more enjoyable about this book was thinking about it after I finished it. The author often mentions how easily the lives of the main characters could of been switched and it was just the fates which lead them on their p...more
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I'm the author of DRACULA IN LOVE, Stealing Athena, Leonardo's Swans, Kleopatra, Pharaoh, and Bettie Page: Life of a Pin Up Legend. I am also an active screenwriter and an award-winning journalist. I divide my time between Los Angeles and London, where I moved a couple of years ago to soak in the atmosphere. Helps when you are writing a gothic Victorian novel.

Please see my new blog, "Women, Histo...more
More about Karen Essex...
Dracula in Love Kleopatra (Kleopatra, #1) Stealing Athena Pharaoh (Kleopatra, #2) Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend

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