The story opens with the end of our chief character's life and this puzzled me with the name change. It was only subsequently that it came to me that women who become nuns sometimes change their names so that our heroine and our nun were one and the same.
Sarah Dunant did not disappoint with this book. Set in 15th century Italy amidst turbulent times the story encompasses the life of Alessandra - who was somewhat "different" to the rest of her family and whose mother foresaw that life could have been tough for this girl who was not willing to conform to what was expected of her.
With her growing up and subsequent marriage, Alessandra realizes that things are not quite right not just with her husband but with the beautiful city of Florence where she lives. Things are turning quite stormy with the arrival of a new priest Savonarola and the city which prided itself on its rich culture and appreciation of anything beautiful whether it was fabric, houses, or sculpture not puts itself on the defensive against the onslaught of a puritannical monk who seeks to purge the city of everything that is vain - in the monk's eye anything that is beautiful. Florence also takes a step back in time when it banishes women from churches and public gatherings and this is a frightening stage in the life of Alessandra.
As Florence becomes dull and women become subservient and self effacing the showdown between the Borgia Pope and Savonarola becomes inevitable. The final purge of the city by force in most instances of all its antiquities and even its ornaments and the bonfire that results marks the turning point in the history of the city itself and begins the end of Savonarola's hold on Florence's citizens.
The end of Alessandra's marriage and her subsequent decision as to what to do with the rest of her life is a twist in the tale so beautifully told.
This was a fascinating story (once again) told by the passionate Alessandra - the historical detail, the descriptiveness of the entire gamut of art and life in that time in Florence is evocative and beautifully told.