The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Young widow Simonetta tries to rebuild her family in 16th century Saronno, Lombardy. In pursuit of a means to keep her estate together, she stumbles upon a new drink made by infusing almonds into alcohol. At the same time, she encounters the talented Bernardino, the protege of Leonardo da Vinci.
What a beautiful book this is! It has everything I love most in fiction – romance, suspense, danger, art, an Italian setting, a fascinating historical time brought vividly to life, and the story behind the creation of something real (in this case, the delicious liqueur made from almonds, Amaretto di Saronno).
I had read a few of Marina Fiorato’s earlier books, and enjoyed them all, but this book feels really special to me. The interweaving plot was so cleverly done, and I felt strongly for all the characters and kept hoping that – against all odds – things would turn out well for them.
Simonetta di Saronno is a young widow, her husband killed in the wars.
Bernardino Luini is a brash young apprentice to Leonardo da Vinci, longing to break free of the studio and do his own paintings.
When he first sees Simonetta, he knows he must paint her.
His pursuit of her – artistically and romantically – leads to all sorts of trouble for them both.
Then there is a second, parallel romantic story.
Amaria is an orphan being raised by a kind woman she calls Nonna.
One day she finds a wild man living rough in the woods. When she tells Nonna, the old woman goes and finds the filthy young man –suffering from some kind of amnesia – and takes him into her own home. The two women care for him and nurse him back to health. Inevitably Amaria and the wild man fall in love, but his past is full of secrets that threaten to destroy not only their happiness, but also that of the young painter and his muse living in Saronno.
Their stories slowly entwine, building to a high pitch of suspense, as religious mania, war, and poverty combine to drive the heroes and heroines to desperate acts.
I loved it! An utterly captivating historical novel of love, war and art.
You might also like to read my review of A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart: