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Leonardo's swans : a novel
Karen Essex
Adult Fiction ESSEX

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From Publishers' Weekly:

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Essex (Kleopatra; Pharoah) offers another meticulously researched fictional biography, this time moving to war-torn 15th-century Italy to document the lives of the noble d'Este sisters, who make politically advantageous marriages. Blond, beautiful, politically astute, and a patron of the arts, elder sister Isabella is betrothed to Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. Their union, at first happy enough, later breaks down owing to Francesco's jealousy, infidelity, and wavering political loyalties. The na?ve Beatrice marries Ludovico Sforza, future Duke of Milan, a mature ladies' man and serious patron of the arts for whom she would seem ill suited. Essex explores the rivalry between the sisters by focusing on their attempts to engage the services of court painter Leonardo da Vinci. Though intimidated by the master, Beatrice encourages him to complete civic works commissioned by her husband, while Isabella is intent upon securing a portrait of herself that will endure through the ages. Readers of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring or Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus will welcome this novel, which brings Renaissance Italy vividly to life. Highly recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]-Loralyn Whitney, Edinboro Univ. of Pennsylvania (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Isabella d'Estate
Enjoying domesticity with her new aristocratic husband; wants to have her portrait done by Leonardo da Vinci.

Beatrice d'Estate
Isabella's younger sister; unhappy; only usefult to her husband for breeding sons; husband is in love with her sister.

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