In sixteenth-century Venice, one young noblewoman dares to resist the choices made for her
Venice in 1509 is on the brink of war. The displeasure of Pope Julius II is a
continuing threat to the republic, as is the barely contained fighting in the countryside. Amid this turmoil, noblewoman Justina Soranzo, just sixteen, hopes to make a rare love marriage with her sweetheart, Luca Cicogna. Her hopes are dashed when her father decides her younger sister, Rosa, will marry in a strategic alliance and Justina will be sent to the San Zaccaria convent, in the tradition of aristocratic daughters. Lord Soranzo is not acting only to protect his family. It’s well known that he is in debt to both his trading partners and the most infamous courtesan in the city, La Diamante, and the pressure is closing in.
After arriving at the convent, Justina takes solace in her aunt Livia, one of the nuns, and in the growing knowledge that all is not strictly devout at San Zaccaria. Justina is shocked to discover how the women of the convent find their own freedom in what seems to her like a prison. But secrets and scandals breach the convent walls, and Justina learns there may be even worse fates for her than the veil, if La Diamante makes good on her threats.
Desperate to protect herself and the ones she loves, Justina turns to Luca for help. She finds she must trust her own heart to make the impossible decisions that may save or ruin them all.
“Gina Buonaguro has cracked open the secret lives of nuns living behind stone walls in glorious, oppressive sixteenth-century Venice. Written with colourful conversation and finely researched details of a city threatened by war and floods (even then), the novel shows the bravery of women who dared to fight for the right to free their hearts and their minds.”
—LISA ROCHON, author of Tuscan Daughter
“A gripping, textured, meticulously researched tale of women’s lives in the watery world of early sixteenth-century Venice, a place of beauty but also rigid social stratification. Buonaguro’s writing is rich in character and place. We encounter a vivid array of women from various walks of life who struggle for survival, agency, and love, and who often risk everything to break out of society’s constraints and expectations that define them. Compelling, heart-wrenching. Unputdownable.”
—JEANETTE LYNES, author of The Apothecary’s Garden
“A rich, intricately researched story of two sisters’ loves, losses, and courage, cast against the vividly drawn backdrop of sixteenth-century Venice. I flew through every page!”
—REBECCA NETLEY, author of The Whistling