The first book in the Venetian Chronicles, in which the prolific Elegant (Pacific Destiny, 1990; Mandarin, 1983) turns from previously favored Asia to Renaissance Italy and the glorious Republic of Venice in turbulent times.
Although ostensibly the story of the title character—a beautiful, strong-willed daughter of one of Venice's most notable families who flees her beloved city for Florence and marriage to a honey-tongued ne'er-do-well rather than agree to he father's plans for her—the emphasis here is more on the endless intrigues of state and the making and unmaking of alliances as the 16th-century Christian world maneuvers against the Muslim Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean. Bianca's cousin, Marco, figures prominently as the young sea-captain and trusted agent in the Venetian Secret Service rises through the ranks with valor and intelligence. While Marco engages in covert operations for the Republic, Bianca catches the eye of the Duke Regent of Florence, Francesco de' Medici, becoming his mistress and paving the way for a powerful alliance between the two cities. The lovers have a child, who is promptly hidden from the prying eyes of Francesco's crown-covetous brother, but the boy soon dies under Marco's roof in Venice. Bianca and her duke eventually marry, though their happiness and the stability of the alliance are undone by his assassination, just after Bianca gives birth to twins—who are safely smuggled out of Florence by Marco, by now one of the most powerful men in Venice—and there the story ends.
A disjointed tale, surprisingly inattentive to primary figures, but still able to provide impressive images of a colorful, fractious period. Ultimately more satisfying as history than as fiction.