Portrait of a Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One. Donna Russo Morin. Diversion Publishing. May 2016. 298 pp. ISBN#: 9781682300602.
Intense brutality and chaos make the citizens of Florence in 15th Century Italy fearful but lead five women artists to unite against a secret enemy. Viviana, Fiammeta, Isabetta, Natasia and Mattea are painters and sculptors who practice in secret since women are forbidden to work as professional artists. They come from a variety of families, some noble and some poor merchants. When the Pazzi attempts to wrest power, with papal approval, from the noble rulers, the Medici family, a bloodbath follows, ending with the death of Giuliani Medici, revenge against the guilty and the innocent follows.
When a painting, The Feast of Herod, and a sixth women artist, Lapaccia, disappear at the same time, the woman is believed to be guilty of the Pazzi and Medici feud and a fierce search begins. Into the mix arrives Leonardo Da Vinci, anxious for revenge against those who killed his dear friend Giuliani but also deeply moved by the talent he recognizes when examining the works of these female artists willing to risk everything for love of their art. The ravages of such conflict is saved in this novel by the perfectly placed descriptions of beauty, strength, hope, reality, love and hate vividly displayed in each production observed, whether in progress or completed.
The remainder of the novel introduces the reader to a project these women believe will yield the plot behind all the increasing madness and conflict in Florence. Viviana’s story parallels the larger conflict but is depicted so starkly that one cannot help but root for her deliverance.
Da Vinci comes to realize that women are more in touch with their feelings and perceptions about familial and political events than any man could ever experience. He begins to teach them the skills he is admired for and the group becomes bonded to this Master. The ending leads the reader to know that this connection is only just beginning and all are grateful for the knowledge.
Portrait of a Conspiracy… is a stunning work of historical fiction that cannot be put down because it is so realistically and artistically captivating. One’s reluctance to read the last page is only modified by knowing more is to follow from this obviously highly skilled writer. This reviewer highly recommends that all read this review, enjoy the comments at the end of the story and share the delight with the Reader’s Guide which ends this first book of Da Vinci’s disciples. Stunning, passionate and memorable read!