[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.

The Renaissance Preacher – From Idea to the Page.

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I remember the first time I came across Savonarola properly. Although I’d read his name in passing I hadn’t really paid all that much attention to him. But, to my sins, I was watching Showtime’s The Borgias when I first really started paying attention to him. On the screen there was this monk, shouting to the heavens about everything that was wrong with the Church and the Borgia papacy. I found myself drawn in and began to read – his story is so intertwined with the history of Florence during the Renaissance that I soon found myself hooked on the story of this Dominican friar who so many believed was a prophet, and who was literally a thorn in the side of Lorenzo de’ Medici. I soon realised though that his portrayal in The Borgias was seriously inaccurate – I suppose I shouldn’t really have been surprised given how much of a train wreck the rest of show was when it came to accuracy. In Borgia Savonarola also has a role to play and I must admit I enjoyed Iain Glenn’s portrayal (it was way more accurate) much more.

My reading soon took a turn away from the Borgia – although that family will always be my biggest love of the Renaissance – and I started reading more around the history of Florence. From the early days of the Medici family through to Savonarola practically chasing the family out of the gates, right up to the very last Medici, I couldn’t get enough. But every time I found myself coming back to Savonarola.

A lot of the books I read on this fascinating character were absolutely huge brick type books. Or they were very academically written. I found neither of these issues to be a problem and devoured them. However what I wanted to see was a book that told Savonarola’s story without getting too bogged down in the politics of the age – of course politics played a huge part and Savonarola was involved in a lot of it, but I really thought there should be something out there that could introduce the life of this man without proving to be too complicated.

So I sat down, and I started to write.

I found myself caught up in Savonarola’s story so incredibly quickly and as I wrote, a gained a huge respect for the man who was burned as a heretic. Despite his wrong doings, despite his burning of some of the world’s most beautiful works of art, I found that he was a man who truly believed in what he was doing. He wanted Church reform. He wanted to reform Florence from a city of vice into a city of God. Unfortunately for him, he pissed off the wrong people with the methods he used and ended up dying a horrific death – something that no one deserves.

As part of the journey, my partner and I took ourselves off to Florence at the beginning of this year. The aim was to see the places that Savonarola lived and worked, to spend time in the cell where he spent his final hours and to take plenty of photographs for the book. Whilst we were there I found myself becoming hugely emotional – I had spent months and months and months researching this man’s life, his works and his death so to see the places where he had been? It was a very moving experience. Despite the fact that I got some very funny looks whilst getting all thoughtful in the Albergetto and got in the way of some guy taking photographs of Savonarola’s cell in San Marco! Those things truly didn’t matter to me though. What mattered to me was that I was finishing off my long journey in the place where Girolamo Savonarola had worked to reform the city and had died. Such a moving experience and one I will never ever forget.

Now the work is finished – photographs and all – and this may sound a little bit conceited but I’m seriously proud of this work. The writing of this book took me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions involving happiness, tears as well as slamming books down and stating I wouldn’t write another word.

And it was all worth it. Every single moment.

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Girolamo Savonarola: The Renaissance Preacher is available now.

Already got the kindle version? Head on over to authorgraph and request for an autograph!