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Historical Novels set in Italy






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Italophile Book Reviews offers personal views on many books that might interest lovers of Italy.  Authors and Publishers:  I review books set in Italy, or about Italy and Italian culture, or about hyphenated Italian culture.  My site is family-friendly. Indie (Self) published books, and small publishing houses are welcome.  Contact:   info @

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(I've read this book and I can recommend it highly.  It brought me into the 16th century Florentine life, with all it's warts, humanity, politics and art.  A very enjoyable read.  It's set during the time of Cosimo de' Medici, and features the artist Bronzino.  Candida Martinelli)

Mysteries set in Italy

Mysteries set in Ancient Rome

Non-fiction books about Italy

Romances set in Italy

Thrillers Set in Italy

Children's Books

Italian Bestselling Writers



The books featured here are historical novels set in Italy.  I've included some featuring:

  • Ancient Roman warfare
  • World War II in Italy
  • Famous works of art
  • 13th - early 20th Century Italy

Each book is linked via a click on the book cover, to's page for the book.  Some allow you to Search Inside the book.

There you can find excerpts, sometimes links to the first chapter, back cover text, and prices for new and used copies.

Many of these books are available as paperbacks and Kindle e-books, so be sure to check before deciding one's too expensive.

These links go directly to's pages for Kindle books.

 Kindle Historical Italy Romances

 Italy Kindle Historical Fiction

Visit my Historical Romance page or my page Mystery Series set in Ancient Rome for more historical novels.  

Galdir - Protector of Rome by Fredrik Nath 

Galdir, a Warlord of the Franks, is a tall, blonde, battle-scared German warrior in his early thirties when this book begins in Rome, circa 180 A.D.  After adventures that are detailed in Galdir - A Slave's Tale and Galdir - Rebel of the North, Galdir is now a bodyguard for the gorgeous widow of a Roman patrician.  Galdir's story in Protector of Rome, written in the first person later in his storied life, begins on October 22, 180, the day of the Emperor Commodus's Triumph. 

Galdir - Protector of Rome is actually three books in one.  It is divided into these three sections:  Commodus the Emperor, Duras the King,  Galdir the Warlord.  Each of the three sections could easily have been issued as a separate novel.  When you purchase a Galdir book, you get your money's worth!  You have hundreds of pages of action, and a front row view of Ancient Roman history. 

I don't wish to post any spoilers here, so I'll just say that Galdir plays the cards he has to gain what he wants for himself and for his people.  Those cards demand much sacrifice and physical suffering, as well as a continual struggle to keep his honor while living at the center of the corrupt capital of the disintegrating Roman Empire. 

Galdir's almost childlike embrace of honor and duty and love makes him blind, at times, to the deceit around him, which is perhaps why he is not completely contaminated by it. 

The books in the Galdir Saga series follow Galdir from child barbarian, to slave, to rebel soldier, to bodyguard, to royal bodyguard, and finally to the tribal leader he was born to become.   

Galdir - Protector of Rome is a well-written, well-edited, richly imagined, well-researched book full of period detail, especially expert in military details and the description of the frequent fight and battle scenes.  It is an adventure saga that does not disappoint. 

Read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.


The Fall of Rome by Michael Curtis Ford


"In his riveting novel The Sword of Attila, Michael Curtis Ford thrilled readers with his recounting of a cataclysmic clash of ancient civilizations. Now, in The Fall of Rome, he takes on the bloody twilight of empire, as the legacy of Attila---once thought destroyed on the battlefield---emerges again to defy the power of the Western World.

'In this powerful saga of Roman warfare, the sons of Attila’s great officers wage battle with one another as the dramatic confrontation between Rome’s last emperor and Rome’s barbarian conqueror leads to the thrilling dénouement that becomes the fall of a mighty empire.

'Pulsing with intrigue, saturated with historical detail, The Fall of Rome brings readers to new places—pressed into the trenches as catapult bolts fly overhead, lurking within the palace where betrayal is plotted, imprisoned in a tower stronghold where an emperor turns mad."
Imperium by Robert Harris

From Publisher's Weekly: 

Bestselling British author Harris (Pompeii; Enigma) returns to ancient Rome for this entertaining and enlightening novel of Marcus Cicero's rise to power.

Narrated by a household slave named Tiro, who actually served as Cicero's "confidential secretary" for 36 years, this fictional biography follows the statesman and orator from his early career as an outsider—a "new man" from the provinces—to his election to the consulship, Rome's highest office, in 64 B.C.

The author's newest novel, Lustrum, continues the Cicero story to it's sad conclusion.  It is not yet on release everywhere.  When I can put a direct link, I shall.

Pompeii by Robert Harris

From A Reader's Review:

It is August of 79 A.D. in the Bay of Naples and the Aqua Augusta, the aqueduct carrying water to the cities of the area, begins to dry up. Fish are mysteriously dying in their ponds. There are ground tremors and rock falls in the cities surrounding Mount Vesuvius.

Some residents attribute these things to giants or to the wrath of the gods. But Marcus Attilius Primus, the aquarius, or water engineer of the Aqua Augusta, who is sent to Misenum to research and repair the problem, knows that there is a scientific explanation.

As he tracks the aqueduct from its terminus in Misenum to Pompeii and then onward to the vicinity of Mount Vesuvius, he observes unusual natural phenomena, discovers the upheaval that disrupted the water flow, and realizes that an inevitable cataclysmic event is about to occur.

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

From  "Both an exploration of character and a reflection on the meaning of history, Memoirs of Hadrian has received international acclaim since its first publication in France in 1951.  In it, Marguerite Yourcenar reimagines the Emperor Hadrian's arduous boyhood, his triumphs and reversals, and finally, as emperor, his gradual reordering of a war-torn world, writing with the imaginative insight of a great writer of the twentieth century while crafting a prose style as elegant and precise as those of the Latin stylists of Hadrian's own era.

Under the Eagleby Simon Scarrow

From Booklist

"It is the year 42 AD, and Centurion Macro, battle-scarred and fearless, is in the heart of Germany with the Second Legion, the toughest in the Roman army.  Cato, a new recruit and the newly appointed second-in-command to Macro, will have more to prove than most.

In a bloody skirmish with local tribes, Cato gets his first chance to prove that he's more than a callow, privileged youth.  As their next campaign takes them to a land of unparalleled barbarity - Britain - a special mission unfolds, thrusting Cato and Macro headlong into a conspiracy that threatens to topple the Emperor himself."

Eagle in the Snowby Wallace Breem


"Banished to the Empire’s farthest outpost, veteran warrior Paulinus Maximus defends The Wall of Britannia from the constant onslaught of belligerent barbarian tribes.  Bravery, loyalty, experience, and success lead to Maximus’ appointment as "General of the West" by the Roman emperor, the ambition of a lifetime.  But with the title comes a caveat:  Maximus needs to muster and command a single legion to defend the perilous Rhine frontier."

While not set in Rome, it is about the fall of the Roman Empire.  I've more about this book, which was used as inspiration for the film Gladiator, and a very interesting profile of Mr. Breem, who has been an inspiration to historical novelists since this novel first came out in 1970.  You'll find many elements of his novels and characters in the books by Lindsay Davis (Marcus Didius Falco Mystery Series) and Steven Saylor (Gordianus the Finder Mystery series).   And the Italian novelist Valerio Massimo Manfredi's book The Last Legion, which was made into a film of the same name, takes up the Excalibur plotline that is suggested by a line near the end of Eagle in the Snow.

The Legate's Daughter by Wallace Breem

I have read this book (C.M.) and I found it an intriguing read.  The author departs from his first book (Eagle in the Snow) which shows in intimate detail the skills and character needed to head an Ancient Roman legion at the border of the Empire.  Instead, The Legate's Daughter shows in intimate detail the skills and characters needed to run a diplomatic mission at the edge of the Ancient Roman Empire.

The reader is put in the position of a diplomat, someone who must collect gossip, read people, and read between the lines in this third-person narrated novel.  Nothing is spelled out for the reader.  We must move along with the characters and try to cipher out the truth, the good guys and the bad guys from the events, glances, words, sighs, and chance encounters.

The protagonist is Curtius Rufus.  He is spotted by Maecenas, a real-life master diplomat, and by Marcus Agrippa, a real-life soldier and administrator, who has had to rely on Maecenas's diplomatic skills more then once.  The two men tutor Curtius, then send him on a delicate and impossible mission:  to recover the daughter of a Roman patrician and senator, who has been taken by force from Spain and who is likely hidden somewhere in North Africa.

Breen has created in Curtius Rufus a whole character, full of contradictions, talents, weaknesses and all the natural skills needed by a diplomat who has to deal with the tribes at the edge of the Roman Empire:  guile, intuition, sharp reasoning, people reading, languages, gossip mongering, seduction, conversation that convinces and that induces confidence, patience, tactical tricks, leadership, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty. 

Curtius is a man in a man's world, but he also understands those at the weak end of the harsh society:  the slaves (his father was one), the freedmen (he is one), the Roman outsiders (his best friend is one), the women (his greatest skill is his ability to seduce and please women).

It is possible that Breem created his character with the historian/politician Quintus Curtius Rufus, sometimes called Curtius Rufus, in mind.  The Roman writer Tacitus tells us what little we know about Rufus, and it fits very closely with Breem's character, in moody temperament and ambitious new-man status, which was a self-made man from obscure birth.  That would mean that Breem's Rufus goes on after the end of the book to have a very long life and career leading to a Praetorship, a Consulship, a Triumph (not for military triumphs but for commercial ones), and as a writer, and lastly as Proconsul of Africa, where he presumably died, a very old man. 

The book is rich with period detail, so rich that it seems to be written by someone who lived through the events described.  No, I mean REALLY lived there.  So many historical novels purport to be first person accounts of events and fall short, but we make excuses for the writer, saying "Well, it is set in in a date from before the birth of Christ...".  This book has the richness that leaves you feeling that you have visited the times and places described.

This is not an easy read.  Many times I had to set the book down and head for the Internet to look up the history, geography and people of Ancient Rome.  I'm not complaining.  I enjoyed that.  But a warning to readers who like everything handed to them on a plate:  to read the book without the historical information would be a waste of time.  Breem's first novel was written as a gift to his wife.  This novel reads like a gift to every classicist on the planet.  There is so much for the knowledgeable reading to enjoy.  This means that you, the reader, must assemble the plot in your mind as you read, as if you were decoding a diplomatic message. 

Challenging, yes.  Rewarding, most definitely yes!  It is the kind of book that you read to the last page then you start all over again at page one, to make sure you've really understood everything that happened.  I read it, did lots of research, then read it again, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around!

Julian by Gore Vidal

From the book description:  "The remarkable bestseller about the fourth-century Roman emperor who famously tried to halt the spread of Christianity, Julian is widely regarded as one of Gore Vidal’s finest historical novels.

"Julian the Apostate, nephew of Constantine the Great, was one of the brightest yet briefest lights in the history of the Roman Empire. A military genius on the level of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, a graceful and persuasive essayist, and a philosopher devoted to worshipping the gods of Hellenism, he became embroiled in a fierce intellectual war with Christianity that provoked his murder at the age of thirty-two, only four years into his brilliantly humane and compassionate reign. A marvelously imaginative and insightful novel of classical antiquity, Julian captures the religious and political ferment of a desperate age and restores with blazing wit and vigor the legacy of an impassioned ruler."

“A subtle, provoking, enthralling book. . . . Vidal’s ability to invoke a world is amazing.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Simply great. . . . A truly monumental novel.” —Associated Press

“Historical fiction in the true, honorable sense. . . . Full of vivid, richly wrought fictional detail.” —The Wall Street Journal

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

From this classic book's description:

"Historical novel set in 1st-century-AD Rome by Robert Graves, published in 1934.  The book is written as an autobiographical memoir by Roman emperor Claudius.  Physically weak, afflicted with stammering, and inclined to drool, Claudius is an embarrassment to his family and is shunted to the background of imperial affairs. 

"The benefits of his seeming ineffectuality are twofold: he becomes a scholar and historian, and he is spared the worst cruelties inflicted on the imperial family by its own members during the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula.  Palace intrigues and murders surround him. Claudius' informal narration serves to emphasize the banality of the imperial family's endless greed and lust.  The story concludes with Claudius ascending to the imperial throne.

"A sequel, Claudius, the God and His Wife Messalina (1935), covers Claudius' years as Roman emperor."


Augustus, A Novel by John Edward Williams

Book description:  "A brilliant and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, Augustus is a sweeping narrative that brings vividly to life a compelling cast of historical figures through their letters, dispatches, and memoirs.

"A mere eighteen years of age when his uncle, Julius Caesar, is murdered, Octavius Caesar prematurely inherits rule of the Roman Republic. Surrounded by men who are jockeying for power–Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, and Mark Antony–young Octavius must work against the powerful Roman political machinations to claim his destiny as first Roman emperor. Sprung from meticulous research and the pen of a true poet, Augustus tells the story of one man’s dream to liberate a corrupt Rome from the fancy of the capriciously crooked and the wildly wealthy."

Wwon the 1973 National Book Award.

For something more exhaustive, try Wikipedia's list of categories of novels set in Ancient Rome, and select the category you like, to see the books they have featured.

And here are a few free, public domain books that are available to download immediately as e-books from Gutenberg Project:

Ceasar Dies by Talbot Mundy

The Last Days of Pompeii by Bulwer-Lytton and as an audiobook

Ben Hur by Lew Wallace and as an audiobook

Antonina by Wilkie Collins

And don't forget Shakespeare's Roman tragedies:


Julius Caesar

Antony and Cleopatra


Tomorrow or Never by Maria Martin 

When you purchase the book Tomorrow or Never, you get three historical novels in one, which together make up the saga of five years in the life of a young woman living in unusual times.  The 700+ pages are divided into three parts, three phases in the life of the protagonist, Vitessa, an ambitious, clever young woman from the poorest region of Italy, who comes to adulthood just as Mussolini comes to power in Italy in the 1930s. 

Part One is set in Fasinella, a rural village in the Basilicata (Lucania) region of southern Italy.  We meet Vitessa and her friends, family and fellow villagers.  Mussolini's socialists are in power, encouraging little-Mussolinis to dominate and exploit small communities all over Italy.  That happens in Fasinella, too, which is home to several internal detainees, political prisoners, for several years. 

Part Two takes place in Rome, the busy political capital of Italy.  Vitessa has escaped Fasinella and is enjoying some freedom to learn and live and love without restrictions.  Mussolini's empire-building dreams, and alliance with Fascist Germany and Spain intrude on Vitessa's life in unexpected ways.  In one way the wars bring her more freedom, and in another way they rob her of her first love. 

Part Three of the saga is set in the business capital of Italy, Milan.  Vitessa continues to forge an independent life for herself, and to learn and to grow.  Mussolini's plans for Italy create havoc for the country's businesses, who are torn between doing business with the country's allies and the country's potential future enemies.  Vitessa is torn between two loves and two possible futures, too. 

The three parts of the book read like a TV mini-series.  The five most formative years in Vitessa's life are described, against the colorful and dangerous backdrop.  There is a large cast of characters whom we follow through the years.  Fact and fiction combine in this novel to entertaining effect. 

The third-person narration allows us inside the minds of many of the characters.  The author teases us at times with forebodings and hints of things to come.  The writing is polished and at times prosaic.  The story moves along at a quick pace, but not so quick that we lose the sense of place and time.   

The story is all Vitessa's, a young woman who shines with intelligence, drive, a thirst for knowledge, goodness and a wicked sense of humor.  A series of mentors take Vitessa under their wing to teach and guide her way to success.  Misogynistic repression is not the only sort of repression Vitessa must face.  The bigotries in Italy against those from the south of the country, meridionali, are just as strong, and just as limiting. 

The author provides a wonderful list of books for further reading, and some Book Group discussion points, as well.  If you are interested in this era in Italy's history, and would like to follow the life of an ambitious, intelligent young woman through a mini-series of events, I highly recommend Tomorrow or Never

Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.


Warburg in Rome by James Carroll

Warburg in Rome is a historical novel that presents a litany of evil, shame and suffering:  the evil of sadism fueled by greed, hatred and lust; the shame of those who could have acted against the evil sooner and more forcefully; and the suffering of pretty much everyone.  If you are looking for a cheery read, do not look here.  If you are looking for the details of some of the history of WWII and post-WWII coming to life, at least a bit, Warburg in Rome is a book that can offer you that. 

At the beginning of the book, which I received as a review-copy, David Warburg, the main protagonist of Warburg in Rome, is given the War Refugee Board's posting abroad, in Rome, Italy.  Much of the early part of the book consists of flashback accounts of the events that precede the liberation of Rome.  The post liberation period in Rome is where most of the book's story takes place.  The flashback sequences continue throughout the book. 

Part One of Warburg in Rome describes Rome in the immediate aftermath of its liberation, and we are given an idea of the enormous scale of the relief effort needed to feed, house and clothe the people left in war-ravaged Rome, Italy, only one of the many European cities that had to cope with post war refugees.   

Part Two of Warburg in Rome deals with the period after the Unconditional Surrender of Nazi Germany.  Warburg remains in Rome, despite the War Refugee Board being shut down.  He works to help Jews find refuge away from the societies that had turned on them, away from the camps where they had been sent to die. 

While advertised as a "thriller", the book does not move quickly enough, for me, to be really thrilling.  The historical subjects are all in the history books, especially the more recent history books, so the outcomes are not in question, making the story intrinsically un-thrilling.   

Warburg in Rome is a historical novel; there is no doubt about that.  The history is richly detailed and broadly researched, letting us inside the U.S. government, the various militaries, the Vatican, the various resistance movements, and the multiple relief efforts. 

The characters are interesting but I never connected with them, probably because my life is so different from their lives.  I could admire them and despise them, but caring for any one of them was difficult.  Most of the characters are so damaged that they barely care for themselves. 

I found myself admiring those few characters who had been battered into pulp by their war experiences, but who still found the ability, or gift, to care enough to try to end the suffering of others.  The author makes it very clear that those persons' helping of others provides the only salve that can begin the healing of the wounds their souls have suffered.  But even some of those characters' compassion succumbs under the relentless evil to which they are subjected or to which they see others subjected. 

Please read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.


The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Do you enjoy the sketches and films of the British comedy troupe Monty Python?  Can you appreciate Shakespeare's plays?  Are you an Anglophile as well as an Italophile?  If you answered "Yes!" to all three of those questions, then you should enjoy reading The Serpent of Venice

In a faux British and or Elizabethan English writer Christopher Moore follows his comic creation, Pocket the King's Fool from the novel Fool, through his next adventure in his storied life.  Surrounded by settings, characters, and storylines from Shakespeare's plays and one Edgar Allan Poe short story, Pocket jokes his way through Medieval Venice, Italy (1299), Venetian Corsica, and Genoa in The Serpent of Venice.  The chapters often read like scripts for Monty Python sketches.  I even found myself imagining the female characters as men in drag with screechy falsetto voices. 

The dialog is full of period puns, and period and up-to-date vulgarity, as well as self-referential jokes.  Events are not described chronologically, the language can be mindbogglingly vulgar, and the humor can wear thin after a while, since it is generally more difficult to appreciate this kind of humor reading it, as opposed to watching it performed.  Those are the three reasons I found it best to read The Serpent of Venice in small doses.  That kept the humor fresh, but it did make it difficult to follow the plot. 

There is also violence in novel, coming mainly from the creature in the Lagoon that is The Serpent of Venice.  Reading about the gore is less upsetting than seeing it, however, so if you dislike horror stories, you might still like The Serpent of Venice

If you are up to American-Monty-Python-does-Shakespeare-in-Venice then you are ready for The Serpent of Venice.  Take it in small doses, and enjoy the author's invention, his facility with language, and especially his facility with vulgarisms.  If you try to picture it performed while you read, you will enjoy it more, since reading The Serpent of Venice is much like reading a Shakespearean farce, or the screenplay for Monty Python's Life of Brian; they pale compared to the performance of the text. 

Read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews


Gifts For Ugo by Joseph C.  Sciarillo

From the book's description:

"Family wealth and status demand much from Ugo Sacco. His father sends him to Italy’s finest schools before he enters the seminary where noble blood and a sharp mind make him stand out. Ugo believes the Church will someday make him Cardinal or Bishop. He believes that fate chose him to lead. He also believes that he will not fail.

"First of his peers, the church gives him his own parish in a remote village Fignola, Province Potenza. Farmers and artisans, the earthy Fignolans, warmly welcome the refined priest. ...Ugo believes the Church owes him a better station among people of his class. ...In 1910, Ugo believes the Church has wasted its best priest, him.

"The story begins when the bishop sends a long overdue successor to the former assistant lost to a fever two years before. The replacement one day just walked into the square. Ugo had not even met the new padre, Matteo Colio. He came with no forewarning or introduction."

From an Reader Review:

"This book was a pleasant surprise. A heartwarming story of life in a small town in Italy whose inhabitants are financially poor but rich in spirit and love. It reminded me of how my ancestors probably lived before coming to America. The town's pastor is the central character (along with his associate priest) and each family was a story, some funny and some sad. It was well written and very enjoyable to read."

Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi

Reviews of this modern classic:

"A kind a gray El Greco beauty."

--Lewis Gannett, New York Herald Tribune  "Has been called in turn a diary, an album of sketches, a novelette, a sociological study and a political essay. It has more than a trait of each genre; yet it remains as hard to classify as every beautiful book, or as the man who wrote this one."

--The New York Times Book Review  "A sensitive and gifted writer with a great sense of style . . . Perhaps the best thing in [Levi's] book is the detachment by which he avoids sentimentalizing the peasants and at the same time renders their undestroyed feelings for human values." --Alfred Kazin

Bringing It All Back Home by Nicola Lagioia

Bringing It All Back Home (the name of a famous album by Bob Dylan) is a translation from the original Italian of the award-winning novel Riportando tutto a casa.  It is a coming-of-age story that ends in an "abyss of regret and sleepless nights" from which the narrator has yet to escape, in the words of the narrator himself. 

The changes that took place in Italy during the 1980s are portrayed through the adult intellect of a man looking back critically and sardonically at his and his country's Regan-era boom years.  The narrator comes to recognize the huge socio-economic and moral divide that exists between his generation and his parents' generation, and the marked moral lapses they both share. 

Being the '80s, and being about teenagers, three in particular, there are lots of pop-culture references and song lyrics to set the scenes, and to pad out the minimal plot.  The young adults' relationships with their parents are the main points of the book, along with the relationships of the young people with each other, and with the world at large. 

The author is clearly well-read and well-studied, and he possesses a literary fluency, dotted with rich, associative, poetic passages.  There are times when the verbosity tends to excess and showiness, and there are times when the line between art and vulgarity is crossed.  The translation is excellent, as is the editing.  Often the chapters left a nasty taste in my mouth, as if the author's and the narrator's cynicism was contagious.  The details of the novel suggest it is partially autobiographical. 

I would imagine the appeal of the book would be mainly to people who lived through the times depicted, who might want a nostalgic look back through eyes that have become as wise as their own, or wiser.  All the major historical and social events are mentioned, and '80s fashion is described throughout. 

As a non-Italian, but one who lived in Italy during this period, the appeal is more of curiosity and as a means of seeing Italy through the eyes of an extremely expressive local.  If you are a non-Italian, the appeal might be to see your 1980s from a different angle, from the perspective that comes from life in Bari, Apulia. 

Please visit my Italophile Book Reviews site for the full, illustrated review.


Where the Hell have you Been? by Tom Carver

From The Economist

"When General Montgomery's stepson, Richard Carver, was captured by the Afrika Korps two days after the battle of El Alamein in November 1942, he had every reason to be worried.  If the Germans had established the family connection, he would have been sent to Colditz, with other prominent allied prisoners.  yet they never discovered the link, so instead he was sent to a prison camp in northern Italy, from where he and 600 other allied prisoners were released, minutes before the Wehrmacht arrived, by the commandant when Italy left the axis in September 1943.

"Richard Carver's grueling three-month journey of over 400 miles (650 km) on foot, from the prison north of Parma to the allied lines south of the Sangro river, forms the meat of this book written by his son, Tom, a former BBC correspondent.  He had to dodge German pursuers, sleep in caves, rely on the hospitality (and courage) of Italian villagers, go hungry for days, sleep rough and trust his home-made compass to get him back to safety. 

When he was reunited with his stepfather (General Montgomery) over a year after he had gone missing, Monty's first words were 'Where the hell have you been?'"

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

From Publisher's Weekly

"...chronicles the Italian resistance to the Germans during the last two years of WWII.  Three cultures mingle uneasily in Porto Sant'Andrea on the Ligurian coast of northwest Italy—the Italian Jews of the village, headed by the chief rabbi Iacopo Soncini; the Italian Catholics, like Sant'Andrea's priest Don Osvaldo Tomitz, who befriend and shelter the Jews; and the occupying Germans invited by Mussolini's crumbling regime..."

Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen 

This is a richly imagined and deeply researched historical novel, set in Europe's late Middle Ages, and told in a lilting narrative voice.  The narrator is the title's Juliet's nurse, Angelica, the wet-nurse to the young Juliet Cappelletti, the daughter of a wealthy citizen of Verona, Italy.

The author of Juliet's Nurse has imagined the life of Juliet's nurse, an often comic character in the play, and certainly a woman of low birth.   

When the woman's difficult life is imagined and told in the first-person, however, we get to meet a real woman who has suffered not just hardship, misogynistic persecution and starvation, but the loss of all her children to disease.  

Because our narrator is a servant from a working class we get an insight into what life was like for the working poor of that era.  But the servant, Angelica, works in the home of one of Verona's wealthiest families, so we get an insight into the lives of the rich, too.  

The low stature of women, and the sexual use of young girls that was common during Europe's Middle Ages is striking to our modern sensibilities, but it would be familiar to anyone living in modern Afghanistan. 

There is much history for the lovers of historical fiction to relish:  herbs, medicines, customs, food, sweets, houses, décor.  There are some twists and surprises along the way, in the story, but I won't spoil them for you.  

The book is well-written and well-edited, and I'm glad I requested a review-copy.  It has a striking cover.  Juliet's Nurse is a quality production, with an attractive interior design that features illuminated first letters of each chapter, in the style of the era in which it is set. 

This was a read that took me away from the world around me and immersed me in a past that seemed a bit familiar, due to the characters I knew from the play.  I enjoyed it! 

Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.



The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram 

The Towers of Tuscany is a fictional biography of an Italian woman born in the early years of the Italian Renaissance, or the late years of the Middle Ages, depending on your classification. 

The sense of place, San Gimignano and Siena, is very strong in The Towers of Tuscany.  Reading the book, I felt I was walking the streets of the medieval towns, and looking at the art that adorns them.  The book is rich with historical detail, and rich with artistic detail. 

Art is the driving force of The Towers of Tuscany, and for the character of Sophia.  I felt compassion for the woman and sympathy, but overall, I did not like Sophia, just as it is difficult to like driven people in any time and any place. 

Like most women in her misogynistically repressive time, Sophia's life was limited, difficult, and at times horrendous.  She suffers violence and rape at the hand of her husband.   

Early on in The Towers of Tuscany we learn that Sophia is suffering severely from her loveless and violent situation.  When a chance to escape her situation occurs, Sophia is forced into living in another psychologically damaging situation.  There really is no escape for this poor woman. 

At a certain point I found myself thinking of the French film The Return of Martin Guerre, that was re-made in English, by and starring Jodie Foster, as Sommersby.  If you enjoyed those films, and you enjoy historical novels with female protagonists, you should like The Towers of Tuscany.  

Please read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.



The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin

The Murano glassmakers of Venice are celebrated and revered. But now three are dead, killed for attempting to leave the city that both prized their work and kept them prisoner.

For in this, the 17th century, the secret of their craft must, by law, never leave Venetian shores. Yet there is someone who keeps the secret while defying tradition. She is Sophia Fiolario, and she, too, is a glassmaker. Her crime is being a woman…


The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

In 1775 Venice–known to outsiders as “the brothel of Europe”–the tradition of mask-wearing has allowed adultery and debauchery to flourish. But Marietta and Elena, two dear friends at the Ospedale della Pietà, a world-famous orphanage and music school for girls, know little of that milieu–until they come of age.

Elena is forced to wed the head of the Celano clan, a jealous, brutal man, while Marietta marries Domenico Torrisi, whose family vendetta with the Celanos is centuries old. Tradition dictates that the friends should never speak again, but their bond is too strong to break.



The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C. W. Gortner

Kindle book and other editions available, from the publisher:

One of the great joys in literature is finding a novel that invests us in the formative years of a child and follows her life, the twists and turns, the unexpected roadblocks, the ingenuity of an original mind at work, leading to triumph, despair or tragedy.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is one of those rare pleasures. Penned by the sure hand of C. W. Gortner, there is never a missed step. Confident gestures, psychological insights, the terror of fighting a nation-altering change in consciousness are all handled masterfully.


The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

Kindle book and other editions available, from the publisher:

History can be dry and uninspiring, but Kalogridis infuses Catherine de Medici's life from 1527-1572 with the unique characteristics of a Medici and the unfolding events of history, the melding of politics and superstition.

Although it is impossible to include all the nuances of these turbulent years, the author focuses on Catherine's life from her imprisonment in Florence to her regency in France and the gruesome St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572.


The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

Kindle book and other editions available, from the publisher:

In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess's wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke's terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia's death-or she will share her fate.


The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis

Kindle book and other editions available, from the publisher:

This vividly rendered historical takes readers to tempestuous Renaissance Italy, where city-states and noble families battle for supremacy over Italy and, through the papacy, the world.

Caterina Sforza comes into power by marrying the illegitimate son of Pope Sixtus, and while her husband is slothful and suspicious, Caterina is clever and ambitious, allying herself with powerful men to ensure her family's success throughout tumultuous times.

Poison by Sara Poole (a mystery series)

Poole’s novel begins this historical-mystery series starring Francesca Giordano, a young woman who takes over her father’s job as head poisoner for the Borgia family.

Working for Cardinal Borgia as he attempts to become pope is a deadly and dangerous business—Francesca’s father is already dead in mysterious circumstances, and threats lurk everywhere. But Francesca has one key advantage; no one takes a woman seriously. That’s unfortunate because Francesca happens to be one of the greatest poisoners in late-fifteenth-century Rome.

These are the books in the (Poisoner Mystery) series so far:

  • Poison - a Novel of the Renaissance
  • The Borgia Betrayal
  • The Borgia Mistress


The Botticelli Trilogy by Linda Proud (A Tabernacle for the Sun, Pallas and the Centaur, The Rebirth of Venus)


This trilogy by historian/novelist Linda Proud is a real accomplishment.  She manages to bring to life Lorenzo de' Medici's Italy through characters key to the Italian Renaissance, but never loses sight of the human aspect of that time of clashing ideas from the Medieval and from the rebirth of classic knowledge and philosophy. 

I link to her publisher's site, Godstow Press, where you can read about the books and enjoy excerpts from the three novels.  You can purchase the books via

A Tabernacle for the Sun is told by Tommaso de' Maffei, whose story involves the Pazzi Conspiracy against the de' Medici, and many thinkers and artists of the time including Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano, Lorenzo de' Medici, Botticelli and Filipino Lippi.  Excerpt.    My review on this site.

Pallas and the Centaur takes up where the first book leaves off and is told by Angelo Poliziano, poet and intellectual.  The Pazzi Wars follow the assassination attempt on the de' Medici, which took the life of Lorenzo's brother, Giuliano.  But there is a war of ideas that is just as heated, between superstitious Medieval, God and church centered Europe, and the new Europe of the rational, man-centered neo-Platonists.  Excerpt.

The Rebirth of Venus is a chronicle by Tommaso de' Maffei written for Erasmus, whom he will accompany to Florence.  It details Tommaso's life in Florence under Lorenzo de' Medici's rule, after the Pazzi Wars are over.  Tommaso becomes a printer and eventually moves to Venice, then to London.  He is in exile because be became too closely involved with the charismatic, religious extremist Savonarola.  Excerpt (pdf).

Visit Ms. Proud's website for some itineraries to consult before your next visit to Florence.  And there is an entry at Wikipedia about her, too.

For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.

Read my review of A Tabernacle for the Sun here on this site.




Purchase the books via Godstow Press or via

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

From  Mary Doria Russell's extraordinary and complex historical novel, A Thread of Grace, is the kind of book that you will find yourself haunted by long after finishing the last page. It opens with a group of Jewish refugees being escorted to safe-keeping by Italian soldiers. After making the arduous journey over a steep mountain pass, they are welcomed into a small village with warm food and clean beds. They have barely laid their heads to rest when news is received that Mussolini has just surrendered Italy to Hitler, putting them in danger yet again. This opening sequence is a grim foreshadowing of the heart-breaking journey these characters will experience in their struggle for survival.

The rich fictional narrative is woven through the factual military maneuvers and political games at the end of WW II, sharing a little-known story of a group of Italian citizens that sheltered more than 40,000 Jews from grueling work camp executions. Rather than the bleak and hopeless feeling that might be expected, the novel has the opposite effect; it reminds us that just as there will always be war, crime, and death, so too will there be good people who selflessly sacrifice themselves to ease the suffering of others. Perhaps best of all, Russell succinctly opens and closes her writing with short pieces that bookend the story with the force of a freight train. Her moving finale wraps up her narrative in the present day, with a death bed scene that's sure to rip the heart out of readers of every faith and ancestry.


Madonna of the Seven Hills by Jean Plaidy and

Light on Lucrezia by Jean Plaidy

Fifteenth-century Rome.  The Borgia family is on the rise. Lucrezia’s father, Pope Alexander VI, places his illegitimate daughter and her only brothers, Cesare, Giovanni, and Goffredo, in the jeweled splendor—and scandal—of his court. 

A family epic legend  replete with passion, intrigue, and murder. 



There are two books to the series: 

  • Madonna of the Seven Hills
  • Light on Lucrezia



Interrupted Aria by Beverle Graves Myers (mystery series)

This is the first in a series of historical mysteries set in 1700s Venice featuring an opera singer as the amateur detective.  Tito Amato is no ordinary opera singer.  He is a castrato, a male soprano, created by a surgeon's knife.  His multi-octave voice has a power that female sopranos can only envy.  The price?  He can never marry in a Catholic ceremony, nor can he father children.

From a Reader Review:  "Filled with lush description of Venice during Carnivale, its political and social structure, the inner workings of the opera company and Tito's relationships with his family, friends, colleagues and himself, this is a rich, wonderful book.  I also found it a good mystery with a couple of twists and some good suspense. This is a series I shall definitely follow."

Here are links to the other entries in the "Tito Amato" series at


Tito Amato Series Books in order of publication:

  • Interrupted Aria
  • Painted Veil
  • Cruel Music
  • The Iron Tongue of Midnight
  • Her Deadly Mischief 

I have read all the books in this series and I recommend them highly. 

The author is a wonderful writer who manages to create vivid characters set in an era long ago that comes to life in the writer's capable and erudite hands. 

While at times the mysteries are not so mysterious, I've read each book to the end, if only to enjoy the characters, setting, and delightful writing.  Some of the books end on a very somber note, which I didn't enjoy, but the journey getting there was always entertaining.

I especially respect the writer for writing the books in the 1st-person-narrative style, as if we were reading her character Tito Amato's memoirs about his amateur detective cases. 

So many writers these days use the 3rd-person-limited style (the "I"  turned to "he"), that it is refreshing to read a book in an undisguised 1st-person-narrative style.  It brings us closer to her unique protagonist.

My favorite book in the series is the last one, published in 2009, Her Deadly Mischief.  On the author's website, she says she is busy writing the next book in the series.  I certainly hope that is true.  I look forward to its release! 

Note:  The links I offer are to  But I recommend you look for these books either at the Poisoned Pen Press website, or for great prices, secondhand, from Better World Books, who ship worldwide for free.


Immortal by Traci L. Slatton

From a Reader Review:  "The setting, for me, couldn't be better: the city of Florence and its environs during the Italian Renaissance.

'This is a period of history that I continue to study with particular interest. Combining a fictional protagonist, Luca Bastardo ("Luca the bastard"), with actual historical personalities, such as Giotto di Bondone, Leonardo da Vinci, the Medicis, and so forth, along with actual historical events such as the Inquisition and the terrible medieval plague..."

For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.

The Master of Verona by David Blixt

From a Reader Review:  "Have you ever wondered why the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet began their famous feud? David Blixt has, and in answer, he gives us The Master of Verona.

'Yet, The Master of Verona isn't so much about the feud (though it is in there) as it is about Congrand della Scala. Told through the perspective of Pietro Alagheri, son of Dante (The Inferno), we catch a slice of Veronese life on the brink of Renaissance.

'The cast of characters is enormous (and, thankfully, it is provided at the beginning of the book). Fictional characters intermingle with historical figures as well as Shakespearian figures. They all have names like Gargano Montecchio and Marsilio Da Carrara, and if it isn't enough that most of the names sound like someone else's, they all have nicknames as well. All that is said to say that to read this book is a commitment. But if you'll hang in there for a few chapters (and refer regularly to the cast), it will be worth it."

The Stars Dispose by Michela Roessner

Set in Renaissance Florence and featuring the de' Medici's cooks!

From Library Journal:  "The Befanini family rules the kitchens of the de Medici and their allies, serving well by fortifying their patrons' reputations and influence with all the power that a brilliant meal can supply.

'Young Ginevra Befanini serves more directly as companion and confidante to Caterina de Medici, while Ginevra's brother Tommaso is learning his family's craft and enhancing it with his own ideas and talents.

'The political forces of Renaissance Florence pull and push at them; plague stalks them; and other alien forces move through the kitchens and the city, menacing Caterina and her friends."

For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.

The Master of all Desires by Judith Merkle Riley

(While set in France, it deals with Italy's de' Medici family.  For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.)

From  "While Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, uses her sorcerous talents to oust royal mistress Diane de Poitiers from her favored position in the French court, the true future of France rests in the hands of a young poetess who possesses a powerful and dangerous magical relic.

'Riley laces her portrayal of 16th-century France with liberal doses of magic (including the enchanted head of a dead wizard), politics, poison, and prophecy.  The author of The Serpent Garden once again approaches historical fantasy with her characteristic flair for intrigue, humor, and the unpredictable workings of the human heart."

Daughter of Silk by Linda Lee Chaikin

(While set in France, it deals with Italy's de' Medici family.  For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.)

From a Reader Review:  "This story is one of the best researched, well-written books I have ever read.

'The fictional characters are very believable and representative of the people who had really lived during the time of Catherine de Medici's rule over France.

'The history is very accurate and Linda portrays the schemes of the Queen Mother so accurately that I felt shivers ever time she enters her mind..."

Duchessina by Carolyn Meyer

A novelized account of Caterina de' Medici's early years.

From  "Young Catherine de' Medici is the sole heiress to the entire fortune of the wealthy Medici family. But her life is far from luxurious.

'After a childhood spent locked away behind the walls of a convent, she joins the household of the pope, where at last she can be united with her true love.

'But, all too soon, that love is replaced with an engagement to a boy who is cold and aloof. It soon becomes clear that Catherine will need all the cunning she can muster to command the respect she deserves as one of France's most powerful queens.

For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.


The Courtesan by Susan Carroll

(While set in France, it deals with Italy's de' Medici family. For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.)

From  "Paris, 1575. The consort of some of Europe’s most influential men, Gabrielle Cheney is determined to secure her future by winning the heart of Henry, the Huguenot king of Navarre. As his mistress, Gabrielle hopes she might one day become the power behind the French throne.

'But her plans are jeopardized by Captain Nicolas Rémy, a devoted warrior whose love Gabrielle desires–and fears–above all. She will also incur the malevolence of the Dark Queen, Catherine de’ Medici, whose spies and witch-hunters are legion, and who will summon the black arts to maintain her authority."


The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll

(While set in France, it deals with Italy's de' Medici family.  For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.)

From a Reader Review:  "I stumbled upon this book one day looking for a book to get lost in in between semesters of grad school and I am extremely happy that I did so. The first couple of chapters were a little slow for me, but it really picked up around the 7th or 8th chapters. I can't believe I read 500 pages so quickly!

'It's not rocket science or anything, but if you are looking for above average historical fiction with plenty of romantic scenes in which to escape and the ever popular battle between good and evil,than this is the novel for you.

'Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am on my way to get the Cortesan as I type. Oh, and by the way, the way this woman describes kisses is simply delicious."

This historical fiction deals with Caterina de' Medici when she was Queen of France and her machinations to marry off her daughter, including murder.

Artemisia by Alexandra Lapierre

From Publisher's Weekly:  "LaPierre's heavily researched but racy historical novel covers the passionate life of Italian Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1592-1653), who survived rape, ostracism and public scandal and went on to imagine powerful women in her energetic paintings. 

Artemisia's father was the much-in-demand Roman painter Orazio Gentileschi, who took the unusual steps of making his daughter both his apprentice and his model.  As Artemisia entered her late teens, Orazio grew extremely protective, then arranged for her to marry his unscrupulous associate, painter Agostino Tassi.  When Artemisia refused Tassi...  Rave reviews by readers who love art, the Italian Renaissance and great drama all tied into an historical novel."

Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex

From the Washington Post:  "The novel centers on two sisters in late 15th-century Italy:  Isabella and Beatrice d'Este of Ferrara.  As the book opens, the sisters prepare for marriage: the beautiful Isabella to the handsome Francesco Gonzaga, and the tomboyish Beatrice to the rakish and scheming Ludovico Sforza, regent to the duke of Milan.  Isabella is very happy with this arrangement.  Francesco may not be the most influential man in Italy, but he's a looker and an important soldier.  Ludovico, however, is reputed (the girls have never seen him) to be ancient (nearly 40), dissolute and morally repulsive."  More rave reviews for this book that delves deeply into the lives and surrounding history, including Leonardo da Vinci, of these important persons from Italy's Renaissance.

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

From Publisher's Weekly:  "...Dunant crafts a vivid vision of Venetian life: the weave of politics and religion; the layers of class; the rituals, intrigue, superstitions and betrayals.  Dunant's characters—the steely courtesan whose glimpse of true love nearly brings her to ruin; the shrewd and passionate dwarf who turns his abnormalities into triumph; and the healer whose mysterious powers and secrets leave an indelible mark on the duo—are irresistible throughout their shifting fortunes."

There is another Sarah Dunant book further down this page.

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

From a Reader's Review: 

"After having loved "The Borgia Bride" by Jeanne Kalogridis, I was looking forward to "I, Mona Lisa" with high expectations and was delighted to pour through this wonderful novel filled with historical fact blended with innovative fiction, and twists and turns galore. Set in Florence in the 1490s, the novel tells the story of Madonna Lisa, the woman behind Leondardo DiVinci's masterpiece. The story is a clever and romantic possibility of the reason behind that famous smile (or lack thereof?).

'If you enjoy historical fiction, "I, Mona Lisa" and "The Borgia Bride" are two examples of the genre at its finest: wonderful character development, rich plots, a studied knowledge of the place, times and characters (you will recognise famous historical figures throughout both novels), a careful weaving of fact and fiction, and just enough twists and turns to keep the modern reader both interested and engaged. I highly recommend both novels!

'P.S. DO NOT READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK PRIOR TO READING IT!!!! Whomever wrote the blurb on the back of this novel certainly didn't want the readers to be shocked about one of the interesting plot-twists more than halfway through the novel. If you want to be surprised and enjoy this book to its fullest, I highly recommend NOT reading the back of the book!"

There is more Jeanne Kalogridis books on this page.


Cupid and the Silent Goddess by Alan Fisk

From Reviews: 

"...captures the atmosphere of sixteenth-century Florence and the world of the artists excellently.  this is a fascinating imaginative reconstruction of the events during the painting of Allegory with Venus and Cupid." Marina Oliver, historical novelist. 

"A witty and entertaining romp set in the seedy world of Italian Renaissance artists." Elizabeth Chadwick, award-winning historical novelist.  

You can read the first chapter on-line, and reviews from other authors.  The painting on the cover, and described in the book, is by Bronzino and is currently in the collection at the National Gallery in London.  Another look at the painting...

I've read this book and I can recommend it highly.  It brought me into the 16th century Florentine life, with all it's warts, humanity, politics and art.  A very enjoyable read.  It's set during the time of Cosimo de' Medici, and features the artist Bronzino.  The author traces Bronzino's work on the famous Cupid and the Silent Goddess making the figures in the painting characters in his novel.  I didn't want the book to end!  The characters were so interesting, I wanted the story to just keep on going.    Candida Martinelli

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr

From a Reader Review:  "This true story reads like a novel, fast and full of intrigue. It takes you through the streets of Rome, both in the present as well as 400 years ago. Harr brilliantly explores the science of art history through the eyes of a student, then throws you into a world of art restoration, with the suspense of a murder mystery. It's a book you can't put down from the opening paragraph. Definitely a must read for any interest."  Very positive reviews and high rating!

Lucifer's Shadow by David Hewson

From Booklist: 

"This intelligent and highly detailed thriller by British author Hewson (A Season for the Dead, 2003) rivals Perez-Reverte's The Flanders Panel (1994) in historical intricacy, complexity of motive, and multileveled storytelling. Masterfully plotted, the novel alternates between present-day and eighteenth-century Venice, following flawed and unwary innocents down the devil's path, tempted by visions of fame, personal glory, and love."

The Second Mrs. Giocondaby E. L. Konigsburg

From the Publisher:  "The Mona Lisa... Why did Leonardo da Vinci lavish three years on a painting of the second wife of an unimportant merchant when all the nobles of Europe were begging for a portrait by his hand?

No one knows for sure. But this story of Leonardo, his wayward apprentice Salai, and the Duke of Milan's plain young wife, Beatrice d'Este, may hold the clue to the most famous -- and puzzling -- painting of all time."

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

From "Sarah Dunant's gorgeous and mesmerizing novel, Birth of Venus, draws readers into a turbulent 15th-century Florence, a time when the lavish city, steeped in years of Medici family luxury, is suddenly besieged by plague, threat of invasion, and the righteous wrath of a fundamentalist monk. Dunant masterfully blends fact and fiction, seamlessly interweaving Florentine history with the coming-of-age story of a spirited 14-year-old girl..."

For a brief history of the De' Medici dynasty, visit my Medici pages.


The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis

From Publisher's Weekly: "Against the backdrop of 15th-century Italian internecine feuds, debauchery and Vatican corruption, Kalogridis's latest historical novel (after The Burning Times) chronicles with compelling sweep the story of the ravishing and iron-willed Sancha de Aragon, princess of Naples. Illegitimate daughter to the coldhearted duke of Calabria (briefly king of Naples), she is used to establish ties to the feared and influential House of Borgia when her father betroths her to the younger scion, Jofre..."


George Herman's Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo da Pavia Renaissance Mystery Series

A Comedy of Murders by George Herman

A Comedy of Murders is a richly researched and richly imagined visit to that amazing time of city-states run by princes, and explorations of our planet and the sciences, and a church more concerned with rich coffers than rich souls, and wars fueled by personal vendettas, and personal vendettas fueled by wars. We meet the Duke of Milan, the French King, the Pope, minor city-state princes, courtiers and other hangers-on. The reader does not need to be an expert on these times or people; the author informatively guides us through them.

Have you ever seen Richard Lester's film The Three Musketeers? While reading A Comedy of Murders, I found myself playing a film of the story in my mind, in the style of Lester's filming of the classic historical adventure tale. Both tales are told as bawdy, silly, historical farce, in which real people from the past are imagined as flawed, corrupt, pompous idiots who are lost in circumstances beyond their control.

There are some characters who rise above others in their moral fortitude, and one of those is the artist-architect Leonardo da Vinci. The author weaves Leonardo's life and work into the story, and from about page ninety, Leonardo plays a large role in the story. A Comedy of Murders is actually the first novel in a series of comic novels that feature Leonardo da Vinci and his friend, the fictional Niccolo de Pavia, a diminutive scholar and courtier.

There are eight books in the series, all historical comedies for adults set during the height of the Italian Renaissance, full of courts, castles, dungeons, torture, gossip, courtesans, rivalries, out-sized egos, rampant libidos, political scheming, erudite learning, monumental building project, and the creation of timeless art.

I would advise a reader to sit back and savor the author's masterful recreation of that raucous, vibrant, violent, cruel and creative era. He is especially knowledgeable about Renaissance warfare, and Leonard da Vinci's work. Do not expect a "mystery novel". Be open to the comic historical novel, and let history wash over you. The author makes us a visitor to a Renaissance city-state's court, and puts us in the middle of all the nonsense.

Read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.

There are eight books in the series:

  • A Comedy of Murders
  • The Tears of the Madonna
  • The Florentine Mourners
  • The Necromancer
  • The Toys of War
  • The Arno Serpent
  • Cardinal Virtues
  • Leonardo's Labyrinth (last in the series, series ends)


Author's Website




Also see my pages:

Mysteries set in Italy

Mysteries set in Ancient Rome

Non-fiction books about Italy

Romances set in Italy

Thrillers Set in Italy

Children's Books

Italian Bestselling Writers


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