Da Vinci had a code; now it’s Botticelli’s turn.
Lusty, foul-mouthed Florentine prostitute Luciana happily plies her trade on the Ponte Vecchio in 1482. Her beauty attracts wealthy clients like Bembo, whose priceless black pearl is embedded in her navel. So when Franciscan novice Brother Guido offers her a religious pamphlet, she scoffs. She enjoys the oldest profession, and she’s even been tapped to model for the goddess of spring, one of eight mythical figures depicted in Botticelli’s latest masterpiece, Primavera. After she poses, Luciana steals a cartone, template for the larger Primavera, and replaces it with Guido’s pamphlet. When she returns to her hovel, she finds her roommate dead, throat cut. Fearing she’s angered agents of Florentine despot Lorenzo de’ Medici, Luciana flees to Bembo, but the throat-slashers get there first. Off to Brother Guido’s monastery, where the bloodletting continues. The cartone must be valuable, but why? Guido hopes his noble uncle, Lord Sylvio of Pisa, can intervene with Lorenzo. But Sylvio is poisoned, and his son Niccolò wants Guido dead. The cartone, and Primavera itself, apparently encode a nefarious plot by the Seven, magnates of Italia’s fractious city-states, but to what end? Learning that His Holiness is a co-conspirator shakes Guido’s faith—a positive development for Luciana, who hopes he’ll defrock them both. Eventually, Luciana encounters her long-lost mother, the ruthless Dogaressa of Venice, who consigned her to a convent as a baby after political enemies threatened her life. Guido is arrested, and Luciana whisked back to Venice; she has been promised since infancy to Niccolò as part of her parents’ political schemes. Luciana must escape her mother, find Guido and avert the conspiracy. Though Fiorato (The Glassblower of Murano, 2009, etc.) minutely and tediously parses every development for clues, she glides right over the big question of why convent-raised Luciana strolled off at age 12 with someone who promised her a pretty dress and cheerfully spent the next four years as a street trollop.
Intricate but derivative.