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Leonardo's Swans

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  5,089 Ratings  ·  261 Reviews
Isabella d'Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, born into privilege and the political and artistic turbulence of Renaissance Italy, is a stunning black-eyed blonde and a precocious lover and collector of art. Worldly and ambitious, she has never envied her less attractive sister, the spirited but naive Beatrice, until, by a quirk of fate, Beatrice is betrothed to the fut ...more
Paperback, 351 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Broadway Books (first published 2006)
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Oct 15, 2008 C.W. rated it it was amazing
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
May 28, 2008 Tina rated it liked it
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
Claudia Sesto
Mar 04, 2015 Claudia Sesto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Il cigno sa quando è la sua ora, sa che tutte le cose di questo mondo non sono che un dono effimero. Questo fatto ineluttabile sfugge solo agli esseri umani. Non appena il povero mortale è sicuro del suo potere e del suo successo, viene distrutto da forze più grandi di lui."
Un bellissimo libro, che ricostruisce la vita di due sorelle che hanno fatto la storia del Rinascimento, Isabella e Beatrice D'Este, la prima signora di Mantova sposata a Francesco Gonzaga, la seconda signora di Milano sposa
May 11, 2013 Andrea rated it liked it
I loved the history and the insight into the life of Leonardo DaVinci when he was living in Milan under Il Moro, and getting a glimpse into the Italian Renaissance was a treat. I would have given this book higher than 3 stars because I love historical novels. However, I had a problem with the POV. It changed so abruptly so many times that I wasn't sure who was expressing their thought. The passage of time also could have been better weaved throughout the story, it ended sort of suddenly, and I w ...more
Jun 06, 2008 Lisaslc44 rated it did not like it
Disappointing. Glad I found it on the Barnes bargain table. The story of the D'Este sisters is, 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
May 30, 2009 Carol rated it did not like it
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.
Jun 20, 2015 Natalia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Estos últimos días me encontraba en pleno Renacimiento al leer Matar a Leonardo Da Vinci, pero en vez de salir e ingresar a un nuevo lugar, decidí quedarme en esa época llena de cambios, con este libro, Los Cisnes de Leonardo (Leonardo's Swans) de Karen Essex, un libro que tenía pendiente desde hace mucho, pero que decidí leer apenas terminé el anterior para así seguir en sincronía. La verdad es que lo que llamó mi atención fue su exquisita portada del famoso cuadro Leda y el Cisne, pintado por ...more
Aug 14, 2009 Allie rated it it was amazing
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
Erika Robuck
Jul 21, 2011 Erika Robuck rated it it was amazing
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
Bethany Crawley
Eh. I usually really like books in this genre, but this one wasn't the 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
Jan 28, 2016 Katerina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recensioni
Questo libro mi è piaciuto proprio tanto.
Isabella d'Este fu una delle più influenti donne del Rinascimento, definita ai suoi tempi "la prima donna del mondo". Ho letto una sua biografia e ne è emersa una donna forte ed intelligente, ma anche altezzosa e con un malcelato astio verso il destino che l'aveva fatta nascere femmina in un mondo di uomini, un disprezzo verso le debolezze del suo genere così forte da renderle impossibile gioire per la nascita delle figlie (curiosamente il marito era cont
Apr 02, 2012 Folliesgirl14 rated it it was amazing

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
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
Sep 17, 2013 Andi rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 13, 2009 Breezy rated it did not like it
Shelves: other
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
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
Jun 01, 2009 Janice rated it really liked it
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
Aug 12, 2007 Teddy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2007
I actually rated it 3.5. Here's my review from

Karen Essex transports us to Renaissance Italy to get lost in the history and vivid scenery and art of the time. She treats us to a glimpse into the life of Leonardo da Vinci and the love, rivalry, and betrayal of two sisters. I'm not sure why Essex chose to tell the story in present tense as it did make it a bit confusing at times. I listened to the Audio CD version and the narration by Elizabeth Sastre was both elegant and fluid. Over al
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.
Mar 16, 2017 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
LEONARDO'S SWANS, Karen Essex, ITALY, Ferrara, Mantua, Milan. Renaissance Italy.

Notable characters of the Italian Renaissance come to life: Isabelle d'Este and her sister Beatrice who marries Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, are caught up in a court defined by intrigue, jealousy, adultery, horrific crimes, excess and war. Leonardo da Vinci is disappointing to his patron because he never finishes projects. The Last Supper is a work in progress and the horse to honor Lodovico's father takes so long
Mar 15, 2017 Jessica rated it it was ok
Could've sworn I've already read this...
Oct 13, 2011 Olga rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
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
Goed geschreven, leest heel vlot! Ik vond het heel interessant om wat meer te weten te komen over deze familie en Leonardo Da Vinci.
Sean Wylie
Apr 30, 2012 Sean Wylie rated it liked it
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
May 01, 2015 Annelies rated it really liked it
Italie 15de eeuw. Isabella en Beatrice zijn beiden dochters van hertog Ercole d'Este en worden uitgehuwelijkt om bondgenootschappen te sluiten met Mantua en Milaan. De intelligente Isabella trouwt met de jonge charmante Francesco Conzaga uit Mantua, terwijl de guitige Beatrice de oudere Ludovico Sforza (Il moro) uit Milaan krijgt die bovendien al jaren loopt te pronken met zijn minnares. Isabella heeft dus geen reden om jaloers te zijn op haar jonge zusje. Of toch wel? Leonardo -Magistro- Da Vin ...more
Apr 24, 2013 Udita rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Jul 28, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
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
This epic tale of the lives of two very different sisters and the various personalities that make up their lives is one of sweeping grandeur and painful intimate moments. Religion, politics, artistry, warfare, romance and domestic travails all take their place as the two sisters attempt to negotiate the tricky waters in which they swim. In an era in which women fell or rose by the behaviors of their husbands, Isabella and Beatrice d’Este prove to have both tender hearts and steely backbones.

I like to think of Leonardo's Swans as the prequel to E.L. Konigsburg's The Second Mrs. Gioconda. Pretty much written in the same vein as the 2005 young adult/children's book, Leonardo's Swans breathes new life into it's titular characters, Isabella and Beatrice de Este.

The aims of the two sisters appear quite trivial and meaningless at first, everything appears to boil down to pride and the procession of a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci's hand. It was interesting to see how a humble painter coul
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I'm the author of KLEOPATRA, PHARAOH, LEONARDO'S SWANS, STEALING ATHENA, DRACULA IN LOVE, AND BETTIE PAGE: LIFE OF A PINUP LEGEND--All featuring iconic women. I am also an active screenwriter and an award-winning journalist. I divide my time between Los Angeles and Europe, where I soak in the atmosphere while writing historical fiction.

Please see my blog, "Women, History, Sex, & Power" at htt
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“Ho personalmente sezionato la lingua, e benché non abbia trovato muscoli specifici per i pettegolezzi, questo sembra lo scopo principale di quell'organo-almeno a corte.” 0 likes
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