Not great, but not bad either. Maxwell’s fanciful tale begins as Caterina, daughter of the local apothecary (and secret alchemist), is seduced by well born, up and coming notary Piero da Vinci. Piero promises marriage, but backs down when his family forbids it, although they do remove Caterina’s son Leonardo to raise in their household. Strong willed Caterina finds a way to be with her son anyway and when he leaves for Florence to learn his craft, Caterina disguises herself as a man and masquerades as Leonardo’s uncle Cato. Cato/Caterina soon finds herself best friends and intellectual acquaintance (!!) with Lorenzo Medici. As Leonardo’s genius and talent continues to grow so does the power of evil priest Girolamo Savonarola and Caterina, Leonardo and Lorenzo find themselves in the midst of a plot to expose the priest for the hypocrite that he is.
All well and good, but there are some definite flaws. How low born Caterina could have been so highly educated by her father that she was able to pass among the intellectual elite of Florence is quite a stretch. Swapping letters with the Pope!!?? How was “he” able to join Lorenzo and his male associates in the common baths without taking “his” clothes off? Let alone wherever they traveled and whoever’s home they stayed in she slept with him? How’d they explain that? Oops, they didn’t, nor did the author. Frankly, Caterina was just too much over the top in intelligence, perfection, goodness and 21C superwoman to be quite believable.
This is very much a “what if” novel and should be read as such and not historical fact. As to how accurately the author portrays the lives of the rest of the historical characters in this book? I haven’t a clue, but I did enjoy Lorenzo’s character (he was quite a hunk), as well as the young up and coming Leonardo and his never ending search for knowledge. Sorry, but despite the hype and great expectations I’m giving this one three stars.