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Bianca: A Novel of Venice by Robert Elegant
At the height of the Renaissance, one vibrant city triumphs over the rest of Europe in nearly every aspect of human life: painting, music, architecture, banking, publishing, medicine and manufacturing. Her empire reaches the Black Sea and her trade, Asia. This is the illustrious and famed Venice, fierce in war and passionate in love. Dotting this flourishing city-state, the nobility glitters with sumptuous finery, lush parties and savory meals. Never has there been such an aristocracy as this, the wealthiest circle in this wealthiest of cities. And of these, never has there been a more intriguing woman than one Lady Bianca Capello, who rises to power when vaulting ambition in young ladies is anything but a virtue.
If her soul belongs to her homeland, Bianca's heart belongs to Francesco de' Medici, scion of the richest ruling family in Europe, at once the most powerful and the most glamorous. To the public, the match seems a perfect one-the union of society's two most influential people can only mean glad tidings for politics. To the two lovers, their devotion extends well beyond the politic and into the sublime.
But every rose has its thorn. Evil forces even in her own circles begin to work against Bianca: noblemen plan to humiliate her and a scheming brother-in-law pits his allies against her. Love has been known to conquer all, but Bianca and her beloved never dreamed that would include battles, conquests, espionage, death-wishes and hatred. Love confronts the enemy it never suspected: beauty.
Sweeping through Medici palaces in Florence and Capello palazzos in Venice, Elegant imagines the years between 1564 and 1587 in Italy as a vivid swirl of events surrounding Lady Bianca Capello, a Venetian noblewoman who as a teenager boldly refuses to be sold into marriage by her spendthrift merchant father. Lured by the sweet proposal of handsome Florentine Pietro Buonaventura, Bianca Capello agrees to elope. But she soon finds herself pregnant, outlawed in Venice for defying her father and stuck with a scamp of a husband who lied about his finances. The beautiful and strong-willed Bianca catches the eye of Francesco de'Medici, prince regent of Tuscany, with whom she shares a passionate, decades-long affair; her position as royal mistress is tolerated by the prince's wife and Pietro. Bianca's cousin Marco Capello, an upwardly mobile Venetian navy captain and agent in the Secret Service, remains the only Venetian she can trust, however. His plan to inch Bianca closer and closer to Francesco, thus making her diplomatically useful to her home city, works stupendously well. Complications of the plague leave Francesco without an heir, and his devious younger brother, Ferdinando, a rumormonger who hates Bianca, is itching to grab the throne by any means necessary. Although richly detailed in the names and places of the Italian Renaissance, the novel is patchily paced, with scenes of military action less lively than the emotional drama. The story races toward its denouement in a confusing bid to save Bianca and Francesco's newborn twins, but Elegant (Dynasty; Manchu) does pull the narrative full circle to the prologue, providing a suspenseful ending to the historical intrigue.