Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Gabrielle Kim's latest novel, The Courtesan's Lover, Francesca, the former lover of the deranged and violent Duke of Ferrara, has fled from him to Napoli where she has set herself up as one of the city's finest and most-sought after courtesans. She has it all-two beautiful homes, several wealthy clients, the best clothing, opulent furnishings, and most importantly, security for her twin daughters. All is well with Francesca, her manservant, Modesto, who has a past of his own, and their life-style until Francesca pretends to be a demure and widowed cousin of one of her regular clients in order to accompany him to a play and dinner. There, Francesca meets Luca, an unremarkable but sweet man by all accounts, and her world and point of view are turned upside-down. Not able to concentrate on a word of the play or a bite of her dinner, Francesca knows she must have this man, but legitimately, not as a whore. What other way can she accomplish this except to give it all up? And so she does, and so angers many of her former clients who swear to seek revenge for their rejection. Meanwhile she has kept up the pretense of widowhood in order to keep seeing Luca. Much to Francesca's dismay, at her first visit to Luca's she discovers that his beloved son is none other than the virgin she deflowered only weeks before, at his sardonic brother's expense.

With Luca's son agreeing to keep Francesca's secret, she continues her relationship with Luca only to feel more and more guilty, knowing for sure that Luca would never consider being with a former whore. After weeks of keeping up the pretense, Francesca and Luca return from an outing to find that someone has kid-napped Francesca's cherished daughters, so all set out in a frantic search of the city for the girls. Francesca returns to the house where she once worked, thinking the girls may have gone there. She arrives to find her devious and angry former client and his precious knife waiting for her to make her pay for declining his attentions. After a vicious attack, and a long search, the girls are found and Francesca is found lying in a pool of her own blood on the floor. Luca looks to Francesca for explanation, and he is given the truth at last. The girls are safe, Francesca will live, but will Luca stay? And will the men who kidnapped the girls and attacked Francesca pay?

Once again, this was a delicious story. The chapters alternate from Francesca's first person point of view, which seems very real and earthy, to the other character's third person points of view. Francesca is an amusing and matter-of-fact character, so it was very interesting to see her stumble her way through the pretense of widow hood, but the reader also cares for Francesca, and wants to see her succeed and be happy. There are a lot of secondary characters in this novel, all of whom are interesting and vital to the plot, though I have not mentioned them in this review. There is a lot of action in this story, a lot of soul-searching on all of the character's parts, but it blends in so well with the action that it never gets boring. This was a very readable and enjoyable book. I look forward to Gabrielle Kim's next book...

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