Synopses & Reviews
My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor's army blew a hole in the wall of God's eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.
Thus begins In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant's epic novel of life in Renaissance Italy. Escaping the sack of Rome in 1527, with their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf companion, Bucino, head for Venice, the shimmering city born out of water to become a miracle of east-west trade: rich and rancid, pious and profitable, beautiful and squalid.
With a mix of courage and cunning they infiltrate Venetian society. Together they make the perfect partnership: the sharp-tongued, sharp-witted dwarf, and his vibrant mistress, trained from birth to charm, entertain, and satisfy men who have the money to support her.
Yet as their fortunes rise, this perfect partnership comes under threat, from the searing passion of a lover who wants more than his allotted nights, to the attentions of an admiring Turk in search of human novelties for his sultan's court. But Fiammetta and Bucino's greatest challenge comes from a young crippled woman, a blind healer who insinuates herself into their lives and hearts with devastating consequences for them all.
A story of desire and deception, sin and religion, loyalty and friendship, In the Company of the Courtesan paints a portrait of one of the world's greatest cities at its most potent moment in history: It is a picture that remains vivid long after the final page.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Dunant offers another lush and intelligent piece of historical fiction....Dunant is the kind of writer a reader will follow anywhere, trusting completely in her ability both to bring a time and place to life and to tell an enthralling story." Booklist (Starred Review)
"The novel's plot is not particularly tight, but there are some great set-pieces....Otherwise, this amiable, intelligent story ambles along pretty much of its own accord, toward a good surprise at the end." Philippa Stockley, The Washington Post
"It is rare that fiction writing and research intertwine as seamlessly as they do here. The portrait that Dunant paints of Renaissance Venice sparkles...and the story herein is perfect in its portrayal of human imperfection..." Library Journal
"Dunant explores and enjoys Venice. And it is Venice that captivates her most and on which she concentrates her powerful descriptive talent. While the story meanders like the canals, throwing up the odd dead end, Dunant uses research and observation to conjure up a sharp city: its dank stinking waterways, its cruel nobility and harsh laws, its fabric of stone mansions and sumpy ghettos, its glittering, gleaming, sparkling, sly and silky water." Phillipa Stockley, Washington Post Book World
(read the entire Washington Post Book World review
Set in Renaissance Italy, this follow-up to Dunant's The Birth of Venus recounts the fantastic escapades of Bucino Teodoldo, a wily dwarf, and his mistress, celebrated courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini, who escape to Venice where intrigue awaits.
About the Author
Sarah Dunant has written eight novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Birth of Venus, and edited two books of essays. She has worked widely in print, television, and radio, and is now a full-time writer. Dunant has two children and lives in London and Florence.