**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.**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** This book started out slow. It is divided into a modern track and a historical track(1733), both set in Venice. The 2 tracks mirror**spoiler alert** This book started out slow. It is divided into a modern track and a historical track(1733), both set in Venice. The 2 tracks mirror each other.
The historical track's main character is an orphaned young man, Lorenzo, who comes to Venice to work as a printer's apprentice for his uncle, a moderately important publisher. The Venice of the day is ruled by the Doge, and his secret police, and a network of anonymous public drop boxes where anyone can inform on those who are breaking either secular or religious law. Those named are dragged off, and never seen again.
Vivaldi is in residence, at the end of his life. He conducts yearly concerts to spread his music, but since his glory days are behind him, the city is tired of his recycled material. A group which includes, Lorenzo's uncle, thinks a good new musician will transform the tired music. The orchestra that plays is small, all female, and performs behind a screen. Lorenzo's uncle cooks up a scheme to smuggle a talented Jewish woman into the group. The concerts are played in a church, and Jews are forbidden on pain of death and torture to enter a Christian church. They are unfairly discriminated against, and locked up every night in their ghetto.
Lorenzo becomes involved in getting Rebecca to and from the concerts, helping to smuggle her out of the ghetto, and back in again. Of course Lorenzo becomes besotted. The story becomes more complicated when an 'anonymous' concerto is presented and there is great speculation on the composer. Various twists abound, some characters show their true colors as bad guys, and others throw off their disguise as good guys and do horrible things.
The modern day thread has a young Englishman, Daniel, with no family, come to Venice to work on the ancient personal library of the head of the same publishing house of the past thread, Scacchi. Now fallen on hard times, with equipment and papers waterlogged, the house does no publishing and is in decline. The aging head of the house and his male American lover are both dying of AIDS. They are tended to by a young woman as housekeeper, Laura, who is strongly dedicated and protective of them.
The modern day thread has a yearly concert, and a famous avaricious collector who funds them, Massiter. Again the 'anonymous' concerto appears and much jockeying is done so that not only will it be performed and published, but that those who do so will get the rights, the royalties, and the fame.
Set around these characters are several connected murders. One of a young woman virtuoso violinist, and then the cemetery attendant who exhumes her 10 years after her death for a 'fake' relative, with forged paperwork. The police are looking for the current murderer and what was taken from the coffin of the exhumed girl. The murderer of the girl committed suicide 10 years before, but the current police detective does not believe the dead man to be the killer. She believe s that Massiter and Scacchi are involved in smuggling of artifacts, and feels young, naive Daniel is the weak spot to apply pressure.
The book took a while to take off. The modern day thread was mostly bland and boring for about the first 120 pages. Most of the characters were not well developed, and were odd. I did really care what happened to them.
The past thread was interesting, but for the early part were all in italics. The conceit was that the main character was writing letters to his sister in Spain. Thank god she eventually dies and the italics mostly disappear. I hate reading whole chapters in italics.
If you can hang on to the middle to end of the book, it becomes a worthwhile read.