[Review] The Flames of Florence by Donna Russo Morin

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Il Magnifico, Lorenzo de’ Medici, is dead, and his now-exiled son, Piero, has brought ruin upon Florence. War and famine have tarnished and dulled the glittering city. Yet, the glory that is Renaissance artistry grows more magnificent, as does the work of the women known as Da Vinci’s Disciples. Now, they face their most dangerous challenge thus far, one shrouded in the cloak of a monk.

From the ashes of war, Friar Girolamo Savonarola rises. Some call him a savior and a prophet, a man willing to overthrow tyrannical rulers and corrupt clergy, the Borgia Pope among them. Fra Girolamo is determined to remold Florence from an avaricious, secular culture to a paragon of Christian virtues.

Many call Savonarola a delusional heretic, incapable of anything but self-serving fanaticism. When he sets out to destroy all secular art forms―literature, sculpture, paintings―Da Vinci’s Disciples call him an enemy…most, but not all of them.

Savonarola divides the people of Florence; neighbor turns on neighbor. Within the Disciples―within their families―fissures slash them when Viviana devises a dangerous plan to save whatever they can of the city’s art from Savonarola’s bonfires.

Who will reign triumphant? Will their families―their loves, friendships, and their art―survive the treacherous threat? Will the Disciples themselves―and all they’ve fought for and achieved―burn…in THE FLAMES OF FLORENCE?

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book through NetGalley and the moment I received the email saying I could review it, I was SUPER excited. I’d actually found this book by accident, idly perusing the historical fiction section on the NetGalley website – normally I stick to their nonfiction but the moment I saw this one, and read the blurb, I knew I HAD to read it. And why? Historical fiction on Savonarola is rare – I’ve only read a couple of fiction books about him or including him and it’s gotten to the point where I really want to write a novel about him myself. I may even have the first chapter of such a tale tucked away somewhere on my computer…

But anyway, I digress. This book is the third in Morin’s ‘Da Vinci’s Disciples’ trilogy but I’d like to stress – you do not need to have read the other two to understand this one. It happily stands on its own as a tale of love, betrayal and heresy in Renaissance Florence. For the years that Savonarola ruled Florence were a torrid time which split the populace right down the middle with those who supported the friar and those who didn’t. In this novel we see just how much that split can affect a group of people who truly believe themselves to be family. For that is what the Disciples are – a family of women who paint, having been tutored under the great Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t want to give too much away about this plot point but let me tell you – you see how the split affects these women and you can truly feel the betrayal when it all comes to light.

I was particularly impressed with Morin’s characterisation of Savonarola. Having spent so long researching the man myself, you could really tell when reading this novel that she had done the same. And she has done the fascinating character of Girolamo Savonarola a justice that I have never seen another writer do before. Not only has she put the research in with Savonarola and his followers (I loved how she put in the friar firing the arquebus during the Siege of San Marco – a true story!) but she’s put the research in for the Florence that he occupied, mixing historical fact with exceptionally well written fiction involving a sect of female artists.

This book is truly excellent and one that I would highly recommend for anyone interested in Renaissance Florence. It’s an absolutely stunning read – Morin deserves high praise for creating such a masterpiece, weaving the real life character who existed in with those she has created. And she’s done it excellently. I’ll certainly be reading her previous two books in this trilogy at some point VERY soon.

The Flames of Florence, book 3 in the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy is released on 24 May 2018 in the UK, and available for pre-order now.

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