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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Review: Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin

Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin
Book 1 in the Da Vinci’s Disciples Trilogy
ARC, Paperback, 290 pages
Diversion Books
May 10, 2016

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Source: Received from the publisher for review with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe.

Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.
The story that Donna Russo Morin crafts in Portrait of a Conspiracy is a little bit of a mystery, a little bit of a women’s history lesson, and a little bit of a study of art. Immediately from the first pages of the novel you are sucked into the drama of an assassination and as the pages turn more of the plot behind the assassination unfolds. The five core women of this story get caught up in all of the drama not only because it is happening in their great city and it effects everyone to some extent, but also because one of their own is seemingly implicated in the plot in some manner and they are trying to find and protect their friend before the law does. At this time, women were not in power, so they must find her using the methods available to women, which makes things a little bit trickier. At the same time, they must work to keep their small art group a secret, which is a challenge when the people in power are turning over every stone looking for the perpetrators of the assassination. There is quite a lot going on here!

Overall, I feel that the plot of the novel was well thought-out and well-paced. There was never a sense of the objective being lost even though these characters endure some life events that run alongside the main story of the assassination plot and finding their missing friend. It imitated life in that you can never have a sole focus because life gets in the way – and especially when you are trying to coordinate a group of women it can become a challenge as personalities can get in the way!

There was certainly a lot of attention paid to learning about and detailing the creation of art. These women have their own art studio and we are privy to their creation of their works. In their quest they also study and witness other art being created. It is clear that the author spent a lot of time researching methods of painting and it make the novel that much richer in detail.

Morin is an expert at bringing the setting to life, in this case the city of Florence. I have never been to Florence, or even Italy for that matter, but I felt like I was living and breathing it right along with the characters – from the grimy walls a dark alley, to the smells of death and decay in the plaza, to the plush luxury of the upper class homes.

There is a large cast of characters here – at the very least there are 6 women, their husbands/children, Leonardo da Vinci, and several people of power and influence. Although a dramatis personae is included in the front of the novel, I forgot about this and struggled through most of the novel to remember which name belonged to which woman and from what walk of life she was from. Various sections of the book are told from different perspectives and I found it hard to keep track of who was who – so I recommend you keep the character profiles in front of you! Morin well fleshes out her characters and each is a unique character – I just couldn’t keep them all straight.

There was one thing that kept me from rating this novel higher and this was that at times the narrative became a little bit dense, especially in the first half of it. The most glaring example of this was the inclusion of practically every street that the women covered during their treks around the city; it was something that I began to frequently notice and it slowed down my pace. While I think the author wanted to give a detailed description of their paths through the city I think that it became a little too much and would have benefited from a lighter hand at the street name dropping.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of this series plays out. I am curious if there will be another mystery/thriller angle in the next book or if it will be more focused on their quest to bring women’s art to the fore.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Donna Russo Morin:

The Secret of the Glass
[My Review]

The King’s Agent
[My Review]

To Serve a King
[My Review]

The Courtier’s Secret

Find Donna Russo Morin: Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Sounds really good! I need a good historical fiction! Its been too long. LOL

    1. I've always enjoyed Donna Russo Morin's books - you wouldn't go wrong with these.


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