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In the Company of the Courtesan

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  22,676 ratings  ·  1,305 reviews
My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor's army blew a hole in the wall of God's eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.

Thus begins In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant's epic novel of life in Renaissance Italy.begins/>
Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Random House Trade (first published 2006)
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Lori It is SLOW. I'm about halfway through, and I've been reading it for days. I only keep on so I find out what happens, and so I can't accuse myself of…moreIt is SLOW. I'm about halfway through, and I've been reading it for days. I only keep on so I find out what happens, and so I can't accuse myself of only reading 'easy' books!(less)

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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Federico DN
Aug 03, 2016 rated it liked it
An ambitious prostitute, a cunning dwarf, and a perilous business to get to the top.

In this novel we learn the story of "Fiammetta", a prominent prostitute of the roman court; and his ever faithful servant "Bucino", an intrepid dwarf, as much cunning as his mistress beauty.

Thanks to the courtesan's famous standing and the wealth of her many clients, the peculiar duo lives in comfortable opulence until they are forced to flee the city due to the invasion and great sacking of Rome, in the beginn
Jan 25, 2008 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book. The story was great and I loved the concept, but there were too many things that ended up annoying me.

On the positive side, it was very well written. I did love the character Fiammetta. I wish the book had focused on her throughout. And I liked the descriptions of courtesan life and of Venice. I especially liked the fact that the author took a real painting by Titian and seemingly created a story around it.

Now for the less positive stuff. [Spoiler Alert] About 3/4 o
Doug Bradshaw
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes historical novels
Recommended to Doug by: Angela Kesselman
Set in the 1500s in Venice, Dunant gives us a sometimes raunchy, sometimes touching and always realistic view of the world in this era. The book is written by the partner/manager of a gorgeous "courtesan" which I like to think of as more like a geisha than a prostitute, but make no mistake, our heroine is a high end prostitute and entertainer of rich men of the era. The partner is an extremely likable, insightful, resourcesful dwarf who is well aware of his position in life as a freak and someti ...more
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
For starters, the title and the cover page of this really can mislead you! "In the Company of the Courtesan" sounds erotic and this is the cover page of my book which I can't find here (I'm guessing Amazon must have stolen it!):

I started to read this while going to and coming home from work and I began to notice some are staring at the cover :) so I started to read this before going to bed. Anyway there is no noticeable erotic content in the novel although it is an insider view of the business
Alice Poon
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it

After reading “Blood & Beauty: The Borgias”, I always wanted to read another novel by Sarah Dunant. At some Goodreads friends’ nudge, I decided to pick this one up.

Throughout the first three-quarters of the book I was more emotionally twined with the character of the dwarf Bucino than I would care to admit. The fact that he is also the first-person narrator is supposed to give immediacy and sense of reality to the scenes and things happening to him, but I must confess that I consciously and
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing

Having had the pleasure of being in an on-line book discussion of IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN
last year with Ms. Dunant, I came away with a much finer appreciation of the historical honesty of this novel!

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to finally meet Sarah Dunant at a book reading and signing of this book in Seattle. Her passion for history is evident and just listening to her enthusiastic account of the research she does in crafting her novels was awe-inspiring!

As she read a few
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Two superlative protagonists- partnered but never lovers.

A singular woman who cuts through boundaries and forbidden studies for her time, and yet heals as much as she deceives.

Three under characters who are defined more precisely to their actions and with deeper onion like layer complexity than a titled figure of and in a play by Shakespeare.

Just superb in any one of 3 other categories outside of these prime personalities because it is also of a piece. Mood, progression,
Kate Quinn
Jan 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
For once, a novel that does not romanticize the life of a courtesan. Sarah Dunant continues her mastery of the Renaissance in her second novel, which details the adventures of the Venetian courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf companion Bucino. The dwarf is the narrator, cynical and worldly, and behind his clowning role at his mistress's back they have forged a shrewd partnership. Fiammetta is a delightful mix of beauty, vanity, courage and desperation as she is left destitute after the Protestant s ...more
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I totally loved this book. What a story! Pure escapism into a real historical past. Marvelous - such a good story. At the end of the book the author clearly states what is fact and what is fiction. I had already looked up several of the characters and deeds. This book and Wikepedia make history into an engaging story. Five stars.

I have read through page 110. Wonderful entertainment. The reader is pulled into Venice of the 1500s. You are there with the dwarf, the courtesan and the sparkling, mpv
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I kept waiting for this to be lusher and smuttier than it was. The story follows the dwarf companion of a renowned courtesan in Venice's heyday. It starts with a dramtic escape from Rome as it's being sacked by some sort of protestant infidel, and watches the courtesan trying to make a name for herself in a new city as she befriends a strange, witchy woman. The relationship between the dwarf and the courtesan is the important one, but lacks meat until the book is nearly over. It's telling that I ...more
JG (The Introverted Reader)
Bucino is a dwarf employed by one of the most favored courtesans of Rome, Fiammetta Bianchini. When Rome is sacked by Spaniards and Lutherans in 1527, Bucino and Fiammetta barely escape with their lives and a few jewels they managed to swallow. They are forced to start over again in Fiammetta's native city of Venice. The going is slow at first, but they are both determined to rise to the top again, with the help of some unlikely accomplices.

This was really about 3.5 stars. I enjoyed
Oct 22, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: peeps who aren't picky asses about detached narrative voices
I liked this book alright. The story was interesting enough to keep me flipping pages. I do have sort of a bone to pick over the narrative voice, though. Enter Bucino: affable dwarf, loyal friend, astute business partner, curious bed buddy, annoyingly detached story teller...I had a tough time bonding with the characters in this story; I don't feel like I really got to know any of them. As the narrator, Bucino kind of peripherally describes events and characters' feelings about said events, but ...more
Mar 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I enjoyed Dunant's first novel, The Birth of Venus moreso than this work, I think she has a great knack for writing extremely interesting characters. Bucino is a great hero for her novel and she also does a wonderful job of characterizing 16th century Venice as well.

The novel started off quickly, however the middle moved VERY slowly and made the ending less exciting. I was hoping for more of a resolution, and more exposition, but in the end the book doesn't really need to provide the reader wi
Mar 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all my friends
This book was great, as the plot was creative,
the characters interesting and there was lots
of action. At first I figured that I wouldn't
be able to relate well to the story of a courtesan
and dwarf, but the themes of love and friendship,
hardship and politics, drew you into the story.
Sarah Dunant is a talented author, I enjoyed her
use of analogies. I especially liked reading
about Venice in the 1500's, and thought her
account of the times was well docu
April Cote
A beautiful novel rich in detail, adventure, and history. A story of a beautiful friendship that is completely out of the norms for the time, and their struggle to survive the hardships of life and scandals of a courtesan and a dwarf. Highly recommended for lovers of historical drama and political and society scandal.
Lynn Horton
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
I seldom write two-star reviews, but at about the 30-percent mark, this story just wasn't worth my time anymore. It's crass, slow-moving, and just an ugly read. Yuck.
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Our story begins with the 1527 sack of Rome, and famous courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini is readying her household for the soldiers' arrival. She and her dwarf companion Bucino, who narrates this tale, flee to Venice to start their lives over again. The description pulls no punches, as it were, laying it all bare without nary a euphemism in sight. But it's not just crudeness and filth that is described this way, but great beauty and purity is as well. All in all, a sumptuous presentation of Renaiss ...more
Sara Giacalone
I thought this book was absolutely fantastic. I loved the setting (early 16th century Venice, with a little Rome thrown in for fun), the characters (especially the dwarf, who's point of view we share), the story and detail, and especially the ending which felt so satisfying. I know I will be reading it again, probably more than once.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time that I have enjoyed a story by Dunant. This time, a risqué tale, narrated by the humorous dwarf Bucino of his ventures with his courtesan sidekick in 16th century Venice. A real treat to enjoy the last pages in the sunshine of an April day!
Charles Matthews
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it

Historical novels are always as much about the present as about the past. When Margaret Mitchell was writing "Gone With the Wind," for example, women had recently received the right to vote and a certain measure of sexual freedom. Scarlett O'Hara is more like a flapper of the Roaring Twenties than like any actual Southern woman of the Civil War era – more Zelda Fitzgerald than Mary Chesnut.

The trick is to keep up the illusion of the past. In her first historical novel, "The Birth of Venus," pub
Pauline Montagna
Jul 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was rather disappointed in Sarah Dunant’s previous venture into Italian historical fiction so I approached this book with some reservations. Happily I found it to be a much more successful novel.

The story begins in 1527 on the eve of the infamous Sack of Rome. The dwarf Bucino goes to the walls of Rome to find out the latest news for his mistress, the beautiful courtesan Fiammetta. Warned of the imminent arrival of a marauding army of war-hardened Spaniards and fanatical Protestant
I really enjoyed this book. It's beautifully written and incorporates several of my favourite things...Italy, art and of course history.

The story focuses on Fiammetta, who is a Roman courtesan and her pimp/sidekick Bucino, whom happens to be a dwarf. During the sack of Rome, they flee with a few choice possessions, (jewels) and money, to Venice. Venice is the birth state of Fiammetta, her mother still lives there, or so she believes. On arrival, things aren't as they should be. I won't go into
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ah, this is the third novel I have read by Sarah Dunant and by far the best. I loved the story from beginning to end that is told by the indomitable Bucino. Bucino tells the story from his diminished height and short legs. I found myself cheering this man who deals with ridicule day after day. Fiammetta, a lovely courtesan, and Bucino, her intellectual and wily companion, flee Rome in 1527 when it is invaded and burned. Fiammetta's hair was brutally cut from her head and she suffered a cut on he ...more
Really enjoyed this book, it feels like ages since I read a good historical fiction. I loved Bucino and I'm glad it was told from his point of veiw. I've read alot of books from this time period but none that have been set in Venice. Made a nice change.
Katelyn Powers
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was not at all what I expected it to be. It was very clever, and very well researched.

Mar 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is one of my all time favorite books. It's interesting, yet funny and fast moving. Great character development. Fascinating historical accounts mixed with fictional intrigue. Highly recommend !
Paula Berinstein
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I read historical fiction, I'm often struck by how boisterous people were in the past. Whether this is because many authors choose to write about lively people and places or whether the past was noisier and less private than now I'm not sure. Certainly that seems to be the case here. Of course when you start with the sack of Rome what do you expect, but even when the narrative gets past that, the overwhelming feeling--at least for me--is of noise and action. What a wonderfully immersive env ...more
Adrianne daSilva
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Procajlo
Set in Rome and then Venice, this 16th century novel centres on three quirky characters:
Fiammmetta, a cunning and aging courtesan, Bucino, her cagey pimp dwarf, and a ‘blind’ mystical healer, La Draga. Dunant’s writing is brilliant. She uses figurative language to personify everyday life and the alliterative effect of her descriptions is captivating. Narrated by Bucino, one learns first hand the art and hardships of life as an upmarket prostitute, as well as the history of medieval Venice.
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Generally I don't choose to read historical fiction set in the 16th century. But this one is set in Venice, a city with which I have first hand experience, a city I love. The story is rich with intrigue and detail. The characters are a unique collection of the real and the fictional, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. To me it was a page turner. I couldn't put it down.
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Sarah Dunant is a cultural commentator, award-winning thriller writer and author of five novels set in Renaissance Italy exploring women’s lives through art, sex and religion. She has two daughters, and lives in London and Florence.

Sarah’s monthly history program and podcast on history can be found via the BBC website.
“If grace belongs to God, there are those who say that luck belongs to the Devil and that he looks after his own.” 15 likes
“Outside, the city is changing. While we have been talking of God's laws and seacrets of the earth, a cold fog has come rolling off the sea, pushing through the allys, sliding over the water, rubbing up agienst the cold stone. As I walk the street falls away behind me, the shop's blue awning lost within seconds. People move like ghosts, their voices disconnected from their bodies; as fast as they loom up they dissapear agien. The fog is so dense that by the time I have crossed toward the Merceria, I can barely see the ground under my feet or tell if the gloom is weather of the beginning of dusk.” 4 likes
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