Carlo Gesualdo, prince, composer and murderer has his wife and her lover killed in Naples in 1590.
The wife’s maidservant,Laura Scala, witnesses the events and vowes to avenge her mistress.
The princess, Donna Maria d’Avalos, rescued Laura in Sicily after she had been raped at the age of thirteen. Laura devotes her life to her saviour and after the murders she spends years of her life trying to be revenged on the musical prince.
The scene moves from Sicily to Naples and Venice, back to Naples and finally to the New World.
Laura believes she is carrying a curse. Everyone she becomes involved with appears to suffers misfortune and death.
A Jewish girl in the Venetian ghetto is kidnapped and sold into the Sultan’s harem, Laura’s daughter is placed in an orphanage without her knowledge, the artist Caravaggio uses Laura as a model and meets a tragic end.
Three beautiful pearls given to Laura by her mistress play a part in the story. Is Laura really cursed – or is it her connection with the murderous prince who dabbles in the occult?
A gypsy woman is burned at the stake, a Venetian gondolier meets a mysterious fate and Laura becomes a skilled herbalist and poisoner by default before the story ends in the New World. The background to these events is the strange and compelling music of Gesualdo.
Frances Kempton is a reclusive writer fleeing from the clutches of Jane Austen.
She has an obsession with Italy. This is the first book in an Italian trilogy.
My thoughts: based on real historical figures, this gives maidservant Laura a story and a voice. After her mistress is brutally murdered she flees the palace and so a series of tragic events unfolds as she pledges revenge on the prince.
Most history books focus on events and usually on men, and even more so on wealthy and important men, so it’s always good to hear a woman, and in this case a woman at the bottom of society’s ladder, speak out. Laura Scala was a real person, but being a servant, literally nothing is known about her beyond her name and place in Gesualdo’s household.
The fictional Laura is brave and resilient but her desire for revenge drives her to do terrible things and she believes herself to be cursed. She struggles to find a place for herself, and every time she thinks she has found happiness – a lovely husband, a good job, a baby – it is ripped away from her in terrible ways. She pursues Gesualdo across Italy, but never finds the courage to actually take her revenge until it’s almost too late. Moving, tragic but ultimately redemptive.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.