Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Venetian Mask – Book Review

April 16, 2008

Venetian Mask cover LT Early Reviewer Badge The Venetian Mask was my March Early Reviewer book from LibraryThing. The book, originally published in the early 1990s, has been reprinted and rereleased by Three Rivers Press.

This is the story of Marietta and Elena, two orphaned girls who meet at the Ospedale della Pieta, essentially a Venetian orphanage/music school. Circumstance finds the girls in their 20s and married Venice’s version of the Montagues and the Capulets: the Ceranos and the Torrisis, between whom was vendetta.

Perhaps the best developed characters in the novel were the Pieta and late 18th-century Venice. The Pieta was strict and watchful, but also kind in offering its girls a home and a future. Venice was just the opposite: secretive and debauched, violent, corrupt, and ruthless. Yet Venice was also alluring, freeing, and very attractive to the girls shut away in the strictures of the Pieta.

Unfortunately, Marietta and Elena, not to mention their friends Adrianna and Bianca, were not nearly as well developed as the Pieta and Venice. They are relatively shallow characters with valid but not complex motives for their actions.

To me, the most enjoyable part of the story was not the oft-mindless plot, but the glimpses of life in 18th-century Venice. For example, I had never heard of the completely different sort of orphanage that was the Pieta, nor did I know about the placing of denunciations in the Lion’s Mouth. Also quite interesting was the culture of mask wearing and secrecy of Venice. Lastly I learned of the significance to Venice of the Napoleonic Wars, which I did not previous know.

The storyline of this book is not fantastic, but it does seem that Ms. Laker did her research into the life and culture of Venice and, for that, the book was enjoyable.

Buy this book on Amazon: The Venetian Mask: A Novel

Leonardo’s Swans: A Novel – Book Review

March 3, 2008

Leonardo's Swans coverLeonardo’s Swans by Karen Essex tells the story of the daughters of the Duke of Ferrera. Isabella, the elder daughter, desires to be powerful and adored, and most of all to achieve immortality by being painted by the Magistro, Leonardo Da Vinci. Her younger sister, Beatrice, desires most of all to love and be loved in return. Tension arises between the two when Beatrice marries Ludovico Sforza, one of the most powerful men in Italy and the patron of Leonardo Da Vinci.

These sisters lived during an extremely volatile time in Italian politics, a time of shifting allies and foreign threats. They had to deal with politics, government administration, their husbands’ affairs, threat of invasion by the French, and the frustration of working with Leonardo Da Vinci.

Karen Essex wrote this novel in hopes of setting a background for the life and works of Da Vinci through the women who appeared as subjects in his work, including Bianca and Isabella D’Este, Cecilia Gallerani, and Lucrezia Crivelli. She does this primarily through Bianca and Isabella, both of whom were strong, able women who were great assets to their husbands in the administration of their states. Essex’s goal may have worked too well, however; the novel seems to be more about Bianca and Isabella than about Leonardo, he seems to be more the incidental character, which is a bit incongruous considering the title of the novel. I did feel, however, that the novel was well written and had that thing which I most value in a historical fiction work: an historical description of the fates of the characters, in order to further the reader’s understanding of the period and the events.

Overall, this is a book I would definitely recommend. Perhaps those who have been stuck on the Tudors of England might like to move to Italy to help expand horizons; there are even some characters familiar to Tudor afficianados, French Kings Louis XII and Francois I, as well as Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian.

Buy this book on Amazon: Leonardo’s Swans: A Novel