Leonardo's Swans

Karen Essex, Author . Doubleday $21.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-385-51706-5

Sexual and political intrigue drive Essex's intricate novel (after previous historicals Kleopatra and Pharaoh ) starring 15th-century Italian sisters Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. Isabella, the elder, more accomplished sister, is engaged to handsome Francesco Gonzaga, a minor aristocrat, while Beatrice is intended for the future duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, who's powerful, unscrupulous and already in possession of a pregnant mistress. It seems, at first, that Isabella will enjoy domesticity with Francesco, while unhappy Beatrice is useful to her husband only as a vehicle for breeding sons—a situation further complicated by Ludovico's infatuation with the more beautiful Isabella. While Isabella encourages her brother-in-law's overtures, she's actually desperate to sit for his resident artist, Leonardo da Vinci. The sisters' sexual rivalry provides the main fodder for the novel's first half; the less compelling remainder is taken up with the political complexities of Renaissance Italy, as the rulers of France scheme to invade Italy, Francesco schemes against Ludovico, and Ludovico schemes against everyone. Essex's canvas is too finely detailed to adequately represent the epic dramas of warring Italian princes, and occasional anachronisms in diction are distracting. But the stories of Isabella and Beatrice d'Este along with the occasional investigations of Leonardo's artworks, methods and personality are always engrossing. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 09/19/2005
Release date: 01/01/2006
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 422 pages - 978-0-09-949306-8
Paperback - 344 pages - 978-1-84605-040-4
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-7393-0517-1
Hardcover - 628 pages - 978-0-7393-2578-0
Compact Disc - 978-0-7393-2430-1
Paperback - 351 pages - 978-0-7679-2306-4
Open Ebook - 214 pages - 978-0-385-51766-9
Open Ebook - 432 pages - 978-1-4090-6068-0
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