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Leonardo's Swans: A Novelby Karen Essex
Synopses & Reviews
X * FORTUNA (CHANCE)
FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF LEONARDO:
When Fortune comes, seize her firmly at the forelock, for I tell you, she is bald at the back.
IN THE YEAR 1489; IN THE CITY OF FERRARA
She grew up in a land of fairy tales and miracles. That is what Isabella is explaining to Francesco as they ride through Ferrara's streets. It is Christmastime, and though there is no snow on the dry stone road, the horses shoot clouds of steam into the frigid air through their nostrils.
This is the first time she has been allowed to escort her fiancé through the city on one of his visits. Francesco Gonzaga, future Marquis of Mantua, has come to Ferrara to romance his soon-to-be bride and to enjoy the city's many Christmas pageants ordered by Isabella's father, Duke Ercole d'Este, a great patron of the theater. Isabella believes that the more she tells Francesco of Ferrara's secrets and wonders, and the more she shows him of her father's spectacular building projects and improvements, the more he will realize her value.
In this very church, Isabella says, pointing to St. Mary's of the Ford, almost two hundred years ago on Easter Sunday, the priest broke the Eucharist in two, and flesh and blood came spraying forth, covering the walls of the church and splattering the entire flock.
"The parishioners watched in awe," Isabella says, eyes wide with drama. "The Bishop of Ferrara and the Archbishop of Ravenna came to see it. They instantly recognized it as the body and blood of Christ and declared it a true miracle of the Eucharist."
Francesco solemnly makes the sign of the cross as they ride past the church, but his eyebrows arch skeptically, making him look entirely out of step with the act.
Beatrice trots ahead of the pair of lovers, her long braid swinging in saucy rhythm with the horse's mane, as uninterested as her steed in their conversation.
Born into wealth amid the political and artistic foment of the Italian Renaissance, worldly and ambitious Isabella and nave Beatrice Este, sisters and rivals, compete for the attentions of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan--even though he marries Beatrice--and must choose between family loyalty and survival amid the treachery of a dangerous era. 100,000 first printing.
Isabelle d'Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, born into privilege and the political and artistic turbulence of Renaissance Italy, is a stunning black-eyed blond and an art lover and collector.Worldly and ambitious, she has never envied her less attractive sister, the spirited but naive Beatrice, until, by a quirk of fate, Beatrice is betrothed to the future Duke of Milan. Although he is more than twicetheir age, openly lives with his mistress, and is reputedly trying to eliminate the current duke by nefarious means, Ludovico Sforza is Isabella's match in intellect and passion for all things of beauty. Only hewould allow her to fulfill her destiny: to reign over one of the world's most powerful and enlightened realms and be immortalized in oil by the genius Leonardo da Vinci. Isabella vows that she will not rest untilshe wins her true fate, and the two sisters compete for supremacy in the illustrious courts of Europe.
A haunting novel of rivalry, love, and betrayal that transports you back to Renaissance Italy, Leonardo's Swans will have you dashing to the works of the great master-not for clues to a mystery but to contemplate the secrets of the humanheart.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
KAREN ESSEX is the author of Kleopatra (Warner, 2001) and its sequel Pharoah (Warner, 2002), two biographical novels about the queen of Egypt which she has adapted into a screenplay for Warner Bros. She has also adapted Anne Rice's novel The Mummy of Ramses the Damned into a screenplay for Titanic director James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, and has written a screenplay about Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii, for Columbia/Tristar.
Essex's articles, essays and profiles have been published in Vogue, Playboy, The L.A. Weekly, L.A. Style, and many other periodicals. After being awarded highest honors from the Los Angeles Press Club for her thought-provoking cover story about the missing 1950s pinup icon Bettie Page, Essex co-authored the biography Bettie Page: Life of a Pinup Legend (Stoddart, 1996). Essex is the first and only journalist with whom the reclusive Ms. Page has ever agreed to meet and cooperate.
Essex was born and raised in New Orleans. She graduated from Tulane University, attended graduate school at Vanderbilt University, and received an MFA in Writing from Goddard College in Vermont.
From the Hardcover edition.
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