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[Review] The Maiden of Florence by Katherine Mezzacappa

Anyone who knows me will know just how picky I am when it comes to historical fiction, more so when it comes to historical fiction that concerns the Italian Renaissance. There is so much out there that is just wrong...sorry, I'll get off my soap box now. There was something about 'The Maiden of Florence' by Katherine Mezzacappa that drew me to it - perhaps it was the fact that Florence feels like home to me, or perhaps it was that stunning front cover. Or both. Both is good.

'The Maiden of Florence' tells the story of Giulia, a young orphan from the Pieta orphanage. Her life there is rough, almost prison like, and she is resigned to living a life in the convent. After all, there is no life out there for an orphan. That is until strangers show up at the orphanage. They promise her freedom and a husband - all she has to do is agree to a mission that is of great importance to Florence. She isn't told exactly what this mission is, but it soon becomes clear to the reader that she is meant to sleep with a prince who is to marry into the Medici family. Rumours abound that this prince cannot perform his sexual duties and to Giulia must help put an end to this gossip.

As the tale progresses the reader becomes acutely aware of the Giulia's confusion and revulsion as she is put through test after test to make sure she is worthy, her hatred of the man who has orchestrated the whole thing and her desperate desire to be loved. She falls for the prince she is essentially pimped out to only to have her heart broken, she is forced to endure her child being taken from her and whilst she finds some solace in the man who is found to be her husband as well as her children. She must still face the constant threat of Vinta - the one who forced her into bed with the prince and then forced himself on her afterwards - and the ongoing trauma that she must deal with. Despite all of this though she does live a happy and fulfilled life, showing that there is sunshine after a storm.

Mezzacappa tells this story, perhaps unusually, in the first person. There aren't many that can write a story that grips you using this tense and Mezzacappa does so masterfully. The prose flows nicely. allowing the reader to be fully immersed in the hustle of Florence and the twisting alleyways of Florence. More so it brings with it an incredible amount of emotion - there were times I felt Giulia's repulsion and her heartache. It's been a long time since I have felt this way whilst reading a novel.

This book is so incredibly well done and no matter how hard I try, I can't find any fault with it. Mezzacappa has created something wonderful here, and I urge anyone with an interest in historical fiction or Renaissance Italy to read it. You won't be disappointed.


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