I fell in love with this book from the first page. Sarah Dunant’s recreation of Renaissance Florence is breath-taking. The young protagonist, Alessandra, is totally convincing as true to her time: restricted but vibrant, frustrated in her artistic ability but determined to find her own path, a girl who fights for her independence yet finds herself cruelly betrayed. This is a story that explores extremes of passion, dancing thriller-fast between the pursuit of sublime beauty and a dark underworld of violence, at a time when art swung from being revered to being despised as an instrument of decadence, when Savonarola oversaw the Bonfire of the Vanities and the Medicis briefly lost their hold on power. Alessandra has to adapt to a marriage of convenience, the fragmentation of her family, a city facing catastrophe, and a love that almost destroys her, and pulsing through all this is the art of the greatest master of the age. Magnificent.