In 1576, the bubonic plague ravages the Ottoman Empire. Still stung by his defeat at the Battle of Lepanto, the sultan of Constantinople decides to wield the vicious disease as a weapon against Venice.
Doctor to the sultan’s harem, Feyra is a skilled, compassionate, beautiful young woman. Yet she fears for her life when the valide sultan is poisoned. On her deathbed, the valide sultan reveals that she is not only Venetian, not only the Venetian doge’s daughter, but also Feyra's mother, taken from her sea-captain husband—Feyra's father—by the sultan for her great beauty. Reeling from the news, Feyra is even more startled to learn that her father has been coerced into sailing a ship into Venice—a ship with deadly cargo: the plague. Desperate to escape being forced into her half brother’s harem, Feyra stows away on the ship and quickly falls ill with the plague herself. Once in Venice, the sailors abandon Feyra and her father, who soon dies, leaving her to find her way to the doge. The doge, meanwhile, has commissioned the great architect Palladio to build a magnificent cathedral to urge God to save Venice, and he seeks a great doctor to keep his architect healthy. Clad in the customary medical uniform of the day—including voluminous oiled cloaks and a long-beaked mask—the handsome Annibale Cason is anything but a conventional doctor. He despises the quack cures of the day, seeking instead a place to quarantine his patients and try the latest medical theories. Feyra pleads for an audience with the doge, but as soon as the guards realize she is a Muslim infidel, she is chased into the streets. She finds refuge with Palladio, and soon her fate and Cason’s intertwine.
Fiorato (Daughter of Siena, 2011) nimbly weaves cultural, religious, architectural and medical histories into this captivating romance.