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Flavia was born with a birthmark marring her face in the shape of a bird in flight. A dyer's daughter, she grows up in a secluded little house in the woods, away from prying eyes. Ashamed of the mark, her mother forces Flavia to conceal her face behind a veil. But on the night before her younger sister's wedding, Flavia does something drastic, something that will draw her into a much wider and stranger world than she could have imagined: the convent of Santa Giuliana, just outside the city walls. There she meets Ghostanza, a courtesan turned widow, whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia, and whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched. Flavia becomes her ornatrix: her hairdresser and personal maid. But as white-lead paint rots the flesh below it, the bustling city, and Santa Giuliana, is rotting below the shimmer of wealth and privilege. And Flavia is drawn into a world of desire and jealousy that has devastating consequences. Set in sixteenth century and painted against a vivid historical Italian landscape, rich in description and character and with themes and characters relevant to today, it tackles issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty. It cannot fail to move.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Dazzling... a first novel of originality and, yes, beauty * The Times * A richly drawn cast of twisted characters... lyrical... beguiling * Vogue * Kate Howard's marvellous debut novel creates a seething, sensual idiom entirely its own. Exquisite, earthy, witty - this is a book of rare beauty, about beauty. In this intensely-imagined, elegant and erudite novel, the story of a 16th century Italian woman's quest for beauty springs vividly to life -- Wendy Wallace, author of The Painted Bridge A historical novel in the old fashioned style... deliciously complex and intelligent -- Essie Fox, author of The Goddess and the Thief Richly drawn historical novel * Sheerluxe, Summer Reads 2016 * Brilliant... kept me guessing until the end -- Lisa Cox * Nudge * Kate Howard s exceptional debut novel should be enjoyed in sips like fine wine, to better savor the lush, evocative prose all the way to the satisfying finish. It sent me immediately to my cosmetic shelf to decipher the real ingredients of all those miracle creams for which I have paid so dearly, even as I remembered that the more things change, the more they stay the same especially human nature. -- Brenda Rickman Vantrease, bestselling author of The Illuminator Dazzling... a first novel of originality and, yes, beauty' * The Times * A richly drawn cast of twisted characters... lyrical... beguiling' * Vogue * [A] marvellous debut novel... exquisite, earthy, witty - this is a book of rare beauty, about beauty' -- Wendy Wallace, author of The Painted Bridge A historical novel in the old fashioned style... deliciously complex and intelligent' -- Essie Fox, author of The Goddess and the Thief Vivid, dark and utterly compelling... a rich, lush novel and Kate Howard is a wonderful new voice in historical fiction' -- Imogen Robertson, author of Theft of Life Richly drawn historical novel * Sheerluxe, Summer Reads 2016 * Brilliant... kept me guessing until the end -- Lisa Cox * Nudge *