This ""historical novel"" -- using the term very loosely- starts out in Naples in 1487 when Quintin is 11 years old and is narrated throughout in the first person. Quintin's father, who immigrated to Naples as a Spanish soldier, became a ""thieving beggar"", and is hanged on the gallows, leaving Quintin an orphan. Quintin is the leader of a band of adolescents who steal when they have the opportunity and beg the rest of the time. For several chapters we are told about the filth and foul smells and language that pervade the dregs of society in 15th century Naples. Quintin, who is a boy of exceptional physical beauty, is noticed one day by Master Cienzo, a painter and ""womanly gentleman"". Cienzo wishes to use Quintin as a model for the young Christ in his painting of the ""Presentation at the Temple"", and Quintin goes off to live among the wealthy in the house of Ser Piaro da Malpasso, Cienzo's patron. Ser Piero da Malpasso turns out to be no more than an extremely crude peasant who, along with a missing twin brother, has fallen heir to the Vaspasiano house and fortune, and the remainder of this superficial story is concerned with Quintin's Machiavellian struggle to wrest this fortune from Malpasso. On the way are liberal servings of sex and violence.