**spoiler alert** I was sent this book to review by the publisher. I had read and enjoyed, eventually, Fiorato's other book The Glassblower of Murano....more**spoiler alert** I was sent this book to review by the publisher. I had read and enjoyed, eventually, Fiorato's other book The Glassblower of Murano.
I would have rated it 4.5 stars if Goodreads allowed half star rating. It is almost perfect, but not quite.
This book is completely set in the past, and follows a teenage prostitute named Luciana Vetra around Renaissance Italy. It starts in 1482 in Florence when she poses for a painting called Primavera by Botticelli. She feels insulted by Botticelli at the end of their session, and she steals a smaller unfinished copy of the painting.
Almost immediately bad things begin to happen to Luciana. Her prostitute roommate is killed, her wealthy patron who set up the modeling is killed, and Luciana feels she will be too. It seems someone wants the painting back and will kill to get it. With no where else to go, she runs to the monastery of Santa Croce. She had an earlier interaction with a naive, earnest and handsome novice. Brother Guido was trying to save her soul, and asked her to give up her life of sin and come to the monastery to begin a new life. She decides to take him up on his offer.
It is late at night and past curfew. She sneaks into the monastery and waylays Brother Guido. He is horrified to be alone at night in a chapel with an unauthorized visitor, a woman and prostitute no less. He decides to seek out his superior's advice, the Monastery's Librarian. They are terrified to find he has been killed too. Luciana left a pamphlet from the monastery in place of the stolen painting. Brother Guido believes that they don't just want the painting back, but that it must contain a secret that they don't want others to know. He thinks they will both be killed even if they return the painting. And that starts the race to decipher the code in the painting and stay ahead of the killers.
Brother Guido is related to a wealthy, noble family in Pisa. They flee there, while trying to unravel the clues in the painting. They have good chemistry, though at times fight and hate each other. Luciana is lewd, rude, uneducated and uncultured. Guido is educated, refined and possessed with a strong faith.
Disasters follow them from city to city as they travel to Pisa, Naples, Rome, back to Florence, Venice, Bolzano, Milan, Genoa and finally Pisa again. It is quite the adventure. The book is long and it drags a bit in the middle as you are bouncing around Italy, but then picks up again. The settings and people are done extraordinarily well. The historical details are wonderful. You really feel you are immersed in the time period while reading.
Brother Guido changes his status several times as does Luciana as the secret of her birth and parentage is revealed. Their relationship changes, and there are many interesting and surprising minor characters who pop in and out of the story.
As the book nears the end it becomes so gripping you can't put it down. There are twists, heartbreaks and great recoveries. Yes, the code is deciphered. Several days after I finished the book, I was at work and flashed on a vision of Luciana on a canal, and I wondered what she was doing. Never done that before. The power of the completed book is so strong that the characters seem to live on.
The only drawback to the book is that it has a bumpy start. Luciana seems to be too rude and then too refined in her speech. She also seems too modern in her word choice. Eventually the author finds the right voice and the book moves on. The other annoying thing is Luciana's listing 3 facts to explain or set up new events, and ideas. Got old after the second time, though it petered out after a while and you became inured to it when it returned.
The blurb on the book calls it Dan Brown meets Sarah Dunant. Sarah must be the historical part, because Brown is obviously the code part. Those who find Brown unbearable should not fear, this book has much more depth, nuance and sophisticated writing than he is capable of producing.
Of course all through the book, I wondered why Botticelli would paint a picture with code of a plot that had not happened yet, if they needed it kept secret ? Surely he would have painted it after the plot had succeeded. That bit of foolishness seems to be the only real connection on Brown's level.
**spoiler alert** I received this ARC through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers' Program.
This was a story split between 1681 and modern times. The tale...more**spoiler alert** I received this ARC through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers' Program.
This was a story split between 1681 and modern times. The tale of a bland woman, Leonora, whose life collapses. She moves from London to the city where she was born, Venice, to pursue a career in glassblowing. She is an artist and has some experience with glass.
Turns out she is the descendant of the most famous glassblower in Venice. We get his story in the past thread, and hers in the modern one. There is a scandal about him, and it taints her, when one of her co-workers uses it to trash an ad campaign. She becomes obsessed in finding the truth of the mystery, did he betray Venice or not? The book is the story of her move/life/search for the truth, and attempt to find/keep her new job and lover.
The book was presented as historical fiction (cover - back blurb), but it was more focused on the modern day story. The issues of Leonora were also more concerned and presented as romance than regular fiction. Not something that I really expected. I don't equate historical fiction with romance, though many do. The ease of getting her job, becoming accepted, finding her lover, solving her problems are all hallmarks of romance with a fantasy outlook. Although I am not a big fan of romance, this one was not cheesy, and the story telling was done well enough that I cared about the characters. I was able to overcome my disappointment.
The writing was good, the structure was a bit odd: there would be a paragraph of description, narration and dialog but set apart would be the internal thoughts or reflection of the character who was the POV for it. The story was told more in summary form than with a lot of detail, for me It accentuated the smaller historical section of the book. There was good information about Venice in the book, but it was mostly entry level stuff, and I was hoping for deeper research and more arcane knowledge. I also would have liked more information on glassblowing both historically and currently.
All in all I did enjoy it, and found it moving. It is not a bad effort for a first book. I think it could have been presented better by the publisher, because the front and back of the book imply it to be historical fiction, with a modern thread, which I would say it is not. I suspect that many of the poor reviews are due to people expecting one thing and getting another. (less)
I really wanted to like this book. I have a soft spot for art-centered mysteries/thrillers since reading Provenance by Frank McDonald. Unfortunately,...moreI really wanted to like this book. I have a soft spot for art-centered mysteries/thrillers since reading Provenance by Frank McDonald. Unfortunately, this book was a disaster.
It was almost unreadable until chapter 9. The writing and characterization were the major problems. It was way too over descriptive, and used too many adjectives. Then there were whole sentences filled with pomposity that made them unintelligible. It was florid and at the same time had an almost superior air to it.
The characterizations were just awful. They were not real people, and hopefully not how real people act. What modern day business man asks a female colleague from another firm if its her time of month ? I realize they were all European, but surely they are not that backward ?
The rest were just too cartoony for words, especially the two French policeman, the Scotland Yard detective, and the English art expert. It also seems that the suave art crime expert is a stand-in for the author and comes across as a more cerebral James Bond of the art world. Please.
It seemed someone made an impression on the author because after chapter 9 it was toned down a bit. But why couldn't he have re-written the previous chapters? There was still over-description but it seemed less intrusive. His characters were still odd, and you really didn't care about them. There was no sense of urgency or of caring about the thefts and the mystery.
The art thefts were all over the place and the story constantly jumped around. It was hard to get a coherent story from the various scenes one after another.
Some have complained that there is too much art and art theft information, but that is what I like, and the only reason I kept reading. At the start it seems that he had copied directly from a incredibly dry, boring, lifeless book (in tone, not content), but he gets better with his info dumps.
This book had the raw material to be very decent, but the author lacks writing skill, the ability to recreate real life, and real people, and has too much ego in terms of injecting himself into the book.
I have to say I will probably not read anything else by him again. (less)