Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato

****1/2
Luciana Vetra is blonde, beautiful and lives in fifteenth century Florence.  She knows nothing of her past other than she arrived in the city as a baby in a Venetian bottle.  Now in her teens, after escaping the convent, she is making her living as a whore but through one of her regular customers becomes a model for Botticelli.  She is cast as the beautiful goddess Flora in the painting La Primavera, but after unknowingly upsetting the artist is sent away without payment.  In annoyance and frustration she steals the cartone of the painting and sets off a trail of murder, where someone is willing to kill her or anyone connected to her in an effort  to get the initial plan of the painting back.  Luciana turns to the only man who has not been enticed by her obvious charms, Brother Guido, a novice monk.  Guido is pious and devout, but also knowledgeable and highly connected.  They realise the reason behind their predicament is hidden in La Primavera and so strive to break the code.  Together they flee Florence and travel through the major Italian cities to avoid their enemies and discover the truth.  In doing so, Luciana discovers her past and both characters learn about themselves.
Summed up very quickly...this for me was da Vinci code style romp with a monk and a Florentine prostitute! And I loved it!! No it's not perfect (hence the loss of half a star) but it is a great read!  The detail of Renaissance Italy is gorgeous and Fiorato manages a huge cast of characters including famous historical figures.
If you're keeping up with my reviews, it's not that long since I read "Painting Mona Lisa" which covers similar ground, particularly the rule of il Magnifico in Florence.  It was actually really useful to know a bit about the historical events, (and that particular book was a bit overstuffed with it all, at the expense of the plot) particularly as I'm no art historian...however, this book really showed up how flat and unemotional I found the Kalogridis novel.
On the plus side, Luciana is a really great protagonist!  She's bright, brash and by being uneducated is allowed to ask the daft questions the reader may want to ask when Brother Guido covers biblical or classical ground that is unfamiliar.  She is amusing (not always intentionally) and keeps the tone fairly light, even in the more sinister sections.  Her "colourful" language can be a distraction, I understand it quickly conveys her background and life experiences, provides strong contrast with Guido and shocks the norms of the setting, but although I'm not offended by it, I don't think it was always necessary. 
Brother Guido is lovely, he's handsome, educated and noble but I wanted to know more!  His first meeting with Luciana is when she is having a sneaky pee in the river Arno and he tries to save her soul.  Obviously naive and devout, his intelligence and honour come through as he agrees to help Luciana.  My main problem is that the whole book is told from Luciana's point of view and although she is an engaging narrator, I did find it frustrating at times as I'd have liked the opportunity to hear things from Guido's view, particularly his loss of faith and becoming a soldier in Milan as these were the turning points in his character development and it would have given him much more depth.  By only hearing Luciana's view Guido had a tendency to be a little flat; the flashes of humour and his sudden changes of personality when impersonating Niccolo were underdeveloped.  I thought the overall pace of the story slowed when the she and Guido were separated as the sparring and unfolding romance on her side and his reluctance to accept it were a ongoing feature through the book.
However, that's me being picky and wanting more!  Overall it's a fabulous read with intrigue, murder and romance.