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Lavishly detailed and intensely intimate: a second novel from Ennis, who here creates as exotic a situation as he did in Byzantium (1989) by focusing on the Machiavellian maneuvers and sexual politics of a critical period in the history of Renaissance Italy. Replete with references to Fortune's wheel and Dante, as well as excerpts from Leonardo da Vinci's correspondence, this complex epic chronicles the dynamics of and struggle for power in Milan during the 1490's. Il Moro, the ambitious and much beloved regent for the Duke of Milan, under duress takes as his wife the young Beatrice, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara. Finding scorn rather than love as her husband's mistress remains in place, Beatrice turns to her cousin the Duchess of Milan for solace, and a powerful alliance is formed. It proves temporary, however, in light of the Duchess's increasing jealousy over Beatrice's rising star when she produces an heir for her husband and gains his confidence and love. In spite of an alliance with Venice and the German Emperor Maximilian, Milan is a primary target of an invading French army under Charles VIII; and although Il Moro commands, he is incapacitated by illness just as the invaders approach. Beatrice successfully takes his place, forcing the French to withdraw, but her triumph is short-lived when she dies a year later, having lost her husband's affections and her third child. With her passes the fullest flowering of a remarkable era of cultural and social achievement in Milan; the French soon return, and Il Moro is betrayed, taken prisoner to die in a French dungeon. Poignant and precise in its use of historical material: an engrossing saga of women and power, with characters larger than life yet distinctly, tragically human.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Viking