Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus, returns to Renaissance Italy in her second sumptuous historical novel. Sixteenth century Rome and Venice, with all their glory and their ugliness, are brought to life in this compelling account of the relationship between a mishapen dwarf and his mistress, the beautiful and witty Fiammetta Bianchini.
Although Bucino Teodolda may be small in stature and ugly to boot, he has a keen intelligence and a sharp tongue, both attributes that have made him an invaluable companion to his mistress. Fiammetta is a celebrated courtesan, who has been trained from birth to charm, entertain and sexually satisfy the men who are wealthy enough to afford her. She has made a comfortable life for herself in Rome and has even acquired a cardinal as a patron and protector.
However when the city is sacked by the marauding army of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1527, Fiammetta and Bucino barely escape with their lives. They eventually find refuge in Venice, Fiammetta’s birthplace. Although both her beauty and her spirit are almost destroyed by Fiammetta’s experiences on the run, she eventually recovers thanks to Bucino’s devotion and to the medicines supplied to her by a mysterious blind healer called La Draga. Soon she is once again a much sought after courtesan and the fortunes of this incongruous pair are on the rise until they are faced with challenges from unexpected quarters.
This fascinating novel could just as easily be titled Memoirs of a Courtesan as Dunant goes into great detail describing the every day life of a woman who has dedicated herself to pleasing men. However the real hero of this novel is Bucino, with his wily intellect and his unwavering devotion for the glittering Fiammetta.