Caterina has never been a typical girl. She was been raised by her father in the town of Vinci. Caterina’s father is the local apothecary as well as a secret alchemist. He raises his daughter to follow in his footsteps and teaches her to read Greek and Latin. Caterina thrives on this and does not think about things in the same way that the other young girls in her village do. Caterina has no intention of marrying. She plans on staying with her father and helping him in his shop. That is until she meets Piero, the son of a wealthy villager. Despite Piero’s promises to marry her, his family disapproves and Caterina is left alone and pregnant.
Eventually Caterina gives birth to a son whom she names Leonardo. When his father comes and takes him away, Caterina finds a way to be close to Leonardo. As he grows, she revels in all of the wonderful things he does and learns. Eventually, she follows Leonardo to Florence where she meets Lorenzo di Medici and begins a friendship with Lorenzo that brings Caterina into the heart of Italian politics.
Ms. Maxwell has again shown her adeptness with the historical fiction genre. She takes a woman whom history has forgotten and not only gives her a voice, but gives her life. Caterina could be anyone we know who is struggling against what society deems she must do in order to follow what her heart and her head tell her she needs to do. Ms. Maxwell pulls her readers into the Italy of the 1400’s with the political struggles between the different heads of the cities and the pope. She brings in the desperation that people felt as they sought knowledge about their world and the lengths that they had to go to in order to hide that knowledge from the church. Ms. Maxwell’s appreciation and passion for this story radiate from every page.
I loved this story, but found that it was not a typical romance novel. This story spends most of its time telling us why Caterina does not need a man and how she can survive on her own. All of the romance takes a distant second place to Caterina’s love for her son and her passion for learning. Romance is fleeting in this book and appears only to help Caterina connect to an important character. All of the intimate scenes are short and sparsely detailed. I did find that this treatment of the romance was appropriate given the time period of the characters and that the story is told in first person narrative. Caterina would not be talking about things openly at that time and in fact; romance is not her primary focus. This story is definitely worth reading as it brings a whole new perspective to Leonardo di Vinci and who his mother might have been.