With their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiammetta and her companion dwarf Bucino escape the sack of Rome. It's 1527. They head for the shimmering, decadent city of Venice. Sarah Dunant's epic novel of sixteenth-century Renaissance Italy is a story about the sins of pleasure and the pleasures of sin, an intoxicating mix of fact and fiction, and a dazzling portait of one of the worlds greatest cities at its most potent moment in history.
Renaissance Italy enchants in Dunant's delicious second historical (after The Birth of Venus), as a wily dwarf Bucino Teodoldo recounts fantastic escapades with his mistress, celebrated courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini. Escaping the 1527 sacking of Rome with just the clothes on their backs (and a few swallowed jewels in their bellies), Fiammetta and Bucino seek refuge in Venice. Starved, stinking, her beauty destroyed, Fiammetta despairs but through cunning, will, Bucino's indefatigable loyalty and the magic of a mysterious blind healer called La Draga, she eventually recovers. Aided by a former adversary, who now needs her as much as she needs him, Fiammetta finds a wealthy patron to establish her in her familiar glory. Through Bucino's sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued narration, Dunant crafts a vivid vision of Venetian life: the weave of politics and religion; the layers of class; the rituals, intrigue, superstitions and betrayals. Dunant's characters the steely courtesan whose glimpse of true love nearly brings her to ruin; the shrewd and passionate dwarf who turns his abnormalities into triumph; and the healer whose mysterious powers and secrets leave an indelible mark on the duo are irresistible throughout their shifting fortunes.