This was really wonderful. It had everything I like in a historical novel: sympathetic characters, interesting plot, good pacing, and just the right amount of historical detail. I read The Birth of Venus, Dunant's first historical novel, a few years ago when it came out. This new book is better than that one, though that one is good too.
Briefly, this is the story of a 16th century Roman courtesan who must reestablish her trade in Venice after the sack of Rome by the army of the Holy Roman Emperor. For readers who are unfamiliar with this slice of history, enough background is provided to enhance but not overwhelm the reading experience. Fiammetta, the courtesan, is intelligent, beautiful, and resourceful, as is her partner, the dwarf Bucino, who is the narrator of the book. Bucino is an enormously complex and appealing character. Who knew I could read two books in two months narrated by sympathetic dwarves?
Sarah Dunant also writes mysteries and psychological thrillers. I've tried the mysteries (Hannah Wolfe is the detective) and didn't like them. I haven't tried the thrillers.
You can read a long review of it here.
(Book 22, 2006)