“Perhaps in exploring the interior of the body, he is searching for its essence, that ineffable thing that animates the eyes, the expression, the gestures. Perhaps he is looking for the soul.” Karen Essex, LEONARDO’S SWANS
LEONARDO’S SWANS by Karen Essex was published in 2006 and is 340 pages. I read and enjoyed her most recent novel, DRACULA IN LOVE, and won this novel in a giveaway. This book marks another tour de force in a summer of incredible, historical reading.
Set in Renaissance Italy, LEONARDO’S SWANS is an epic tale of sibling rivalry, ambition, politics, art, and love. Isabella d’Este is the primary point of view character. She is incredibly talented, beautiful, and shrewd. She is pleased with her betrothed until she realizes that the betrothed of her younger sister, Beatrice, is not only a better match for her in intellect and passions, but is also the patron of the genius Leonardo da Vinci. Isabella’s obsession with art makes her consumed with desire for a sitting with Leonardo so that she might be immortalized by his hands. In a tale that spans decades, Isabella plots and connives to attempt to control her fate and to make Italy a mecca for culture and wealth.
Isabella is a beguiling and fascinating protagonist. In spite of her schemes, I couldn’t help but enjoy her. Essex does a masterful job of showing the maturation of flawed characters, and the changing fates of the sisters play like an intricate chess game. Essex’s research and attention to historical detail is impressive but never oppressive.
LEONARDO’S SWANS is historical fiction at its finest. It is the perfect blend of story and history, and sent me searching the internet for hours afterward to learn about the characters and the works of Leonardo da Vinci.
If you are an art or history enthusiast, or if you enjoy writing in the style of Philippa Gregory, you will love LEONARDO’S SWANS.