Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Golden Web by Barbara Quick

Alessandra Giliani has an unusually gifted mind and boundless curiosity about the natural world. Nothing makes her happier than being free to roam the woods around her father's estate, with her brother Nicco, unraveling the secrets of nature. In 14th century Italy, the medieval world is on the cusp of the Renaissance, an era of fertile scientific curiosity. And Alessandra is the daughter of  a stationer, a bookmaker, who holds a unique and important role a century before the invention of the printing press. He visits the great libraries of Europe, borrowing books that will be painstakingly copied and treasured for many lifetimes. With access to books, and with Nicco to help her explore the life all around her, Alessandra's brilliance flourishes, and she dreams of studying medicine.

However, narrow societal expectations and superstitions limit her possibilities for the future. As a woman, she must either become a nun or marry to a man her father chooses. And women who show uncanny knowledge and skill are often burned at the stake. Kept confined to her room by her stepmother, who resents her and is determined to protect her virtue until she can arrange a profitable marriage, Alessandra devises a plan to escape and pursue her dream.

Barbara Quick lovingly recreated this character based on an intriguing historical figure about whom very little is known. Alessandra's character is richly developed. I loved experiencing life in 14th century Italy through her eyes, feeling her quick mind, her longing, and her passions. I was also drawn in by the wealth of interesting historical details. We see different paths of knowledge converge: the teachings of ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle and Galen, the work of Arab scholars, and the traditional wisdom of female healers, and we see Alessandra make an exciting discovery of her own.
This novel also offers fascinating descriptions of how medieval illuminations were created. And there is fodder for interesting discussions of the evolving roles of women during history, and the ways men have maintained intellectual and moral control in society.

Readers will also enjoy the Alessandra's romance, a relationship in which she doesn't relinquish her strength and independence. I wish her love interest, and their relationship, had been developed more fully. When we reached that point, it felt as if there were a rush to get to the story's resolution. And the story's closing -- though it had reached a logical ending point -- felt somewhat abrupt.

Despite these minor disappointments, I thoroughly enjoyed this vibrant historical novel. Alessandra's well developed character -- passionate, curious, brave, and vulnerable -- is what really made it shine. Both adults and teens will enjoy this book, which will especially appeal to teenagers. And the historical and geographic detail in this story is satisfying -- and enough to pique a reader's interest in further reading and discussion -- without weighing down the flow of the story.

About the Cover: It is becoming increasingly rare to find original artwork on book covers. I love seeing the front of a novel illustrated with a gorgeous original painting, and the cover of A Golden Web is beautiful. Visit the author's blog to read more about the cover art, and about the beautiful young woman whose face is behind the painting.

Many thanks to Barbara Quick and to HarperTeen for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Read More Reviews: Rebecca's Book Blog; Book Illuminations; Enchanted by Josephine

Rating: 4

5- Cherished Favorite4 - Keep in My Library3 - Good Read2 - Meh1 - Definitely Not
For Me

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