This book was voluptuous historical fiction without anyone's bodice actually getting ripped off. (There's sex and love in the book -- just no actual bodice-ripping or silly over-the-top romance.)
Moggach paints a convincing and resonant portrait of a world poised between religion and secularism, tradition and trade, city and globe. Her appreciation for Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other painters of their ilk infuses her physical descriptions as well as her verbal renderings of visual art. Like the Dutch still lives and portraits from the 17th century (the time period of this book), Moggach's novel delves into the relationship between body, sex, mortality, spirit, and art. The voluptuousness (that word again!) of the flesh only draws attention to the transitory nature of love and life--which makes its pleasures even more keen. And this book is a catalog of those pleasures and intensities of the body; Moggach delves into eating, drinking, screwing, childbearing, nursing. Her diction and imagery are sensual and aestheticized even as her style is spare and lyrical--a combination of fecundity and grace that corresponds with the painting style she is trying to evoke.
The plot is engrossing and perfectly paced. You constantly have a sense of impending doom. The snippets from various characters' points of view convey not only the psychology and perspectives of these players but also glimpses of the larger plot to which their actions contribute, even as the authors of these actions have limited control over their consequences. I also really appreciate Moggach's attention to female characters' desire for control over their lives, their circumscribed agency and mobility, and finally the way that patriarchal and religious ideologies shape their view of themselves.
An absolutely pleasurable read.