Blood & Beauty – Sarah Dunant

Blood & Beauty = Borgias, Part 1, which takes us from Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia’s elevation to the papacy as Alexander VI to his beloved Lucrezia‘s departure to the Duchy of Ferrara to embark on her third marriage in less than 10 years. All of which left me looking forward to Part 2.

A very readable Renaissance romp and the start of the cottage Christmas (and New Year) reading….

Author’s page: Blood & Beauty – Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant

Set in 1570 as Renaissance and Reformation converge in the northern Italian city of Ferrara, Sacred Hearts focuses on the nuns at the convent of Santa Caterina.

Serafina is sent to the convent to put an end to her nascent love affair with her music master and to free up funds for the dowry of her younger, more worldly wise sister. Sister Zuana, the convent herbalist and physician, had been forced to enter the convent following the death of her physician father almost two decades earlier.

Whilst on the surface Sacred Hearts is a love story, the setting allows Sarah Dunant to demonstrate the unexpected opportunities and freedoms women could find within convent walls, opportunities threatened, paradoxically, by both Renaissance and Reformation.

Amazon.co.uk link: Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant

In the Company of the Courtesan – Sarah Dunant

A great read for the flight home from Tashkent, on Uzbekistan Airways….. I needed something to distract me, and In the Company of the Courtesan did just that.

Initially set in the decadent days of Renessaince Rome during the early 16th century, the action moves to Venice when courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf protector-cum-friend Bucino flee from the sack of the Eternal City by the army of the Holy Roman Empire.

Once safely in Venice, the plot turns to tell how Fiammetta rebuilds her business and her wealth by taking a number of lovers ranging from a Saracen to a senator, and taking in Titian and Aretino en route.

(Sadly In the Company of the Courtesan didn’t quite keep me going for the whole flight, and although I tried to get similarly stuck into James Bradley’s The Resurrectionist, both during and after the flight, it turned out to be one of those few novels that I give up on and leave unfinished….)

Amazon.co.uk link: In the Company of the Courtesan – Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant

An excellent historical novel, evoking the crazy days of Savonarola’s reign in early renaissance Florence, subtly weaving together the early, less well known, years of well known historical figures with intruiging fictional characters.

As one of the Amazon reviewers puts it:

The beginning is extremely gripping – when I read it I thought ‘wow – who is this nun who decided to fake a breast tumour, commit suicide and had an erotic silver serpent tattooed all over her body??’ What on earth can she have gone through, what kind of person was she before she became a nun?’

I read this (morning, noon and night!) on the recommendation of Karen Grimshaw after I’d given her The Lady and the Unicorn for her birthday. We shared the delights of Lymond and Niccolo at St Andrews, and Karen reckons Sarah Dunant isn’t far off Dorothy Dunnett status. Hurrah!

Such a shame that The Birth of Venus is a stand-alone novel, and Sarah Dunant’s other books seem to be modern day detective fiction…. let’s hope there are more where it came from.

Buy it: Amazon link