It might seem like Emilia and Maria live lives of ease and decadence, but behind the fancy dresses are two young teenagers who work hard and are deeply affected by events beyond their control.
Emilia is a talented musician who composes her own music, while her sister Maria is a talented scholar with a gift for languages. Their father is proud of them, but he also sees them as tools with which to gain a stronger foothold in 1737 Milan’s noble society. His vision of their future clashes sharply with Emilia’s, which involves a betrothal to a certain handsome violin player. And Maria feels called to join a convent and serve the poor, but as the eldest daughter, she is expected to contribute to her family’s social standing instead of following her own wishes. Martino explores the gilded passageways of Hapsburg-era Milan’s white aristocracy with technically accomplished descriptions of privilege, luxury, and teenage longing. The writing is sometimes rich and nuanced, though it often falls victim to cliché. For example, when the music teacher praises Emilia’s love for writing music with “true heart,” Emilia thinks to herself, “And in doing so, he’d captured mine.” The romance at the heart of the book tends to miss the mark of real passion with weak arrows of platitude.
A sweet historical romance hobbled by cliché. (Historical fiction. 13-16)