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Muse by Mary Novik

History never felt so vivid and engaging, than it does in Mary Novik’s second novel Muse. The story comes to life with her heroine Solange LeBlanc, whose journey begins in the tempestuous streets of 14thcentury Avignon, a city of men dominated by the Pope and his palace. Her mother (a harlot) dies in childbirth, and Solange is sent to the Clairefontaine abbey to be raised by Benedictine nuns. They believe that she has the gift of clairvoyance. Trained as a scribe but troubled by disturbing visions and tempted by a more carnal life, she escapes to Avignon, where she becomes entangled in a love triangle with the poet Petrarch, becoming not only his muse but also his lover.

Later, when her gift for prophecy catches the Pope's ear, Solange becomes Pope Clement VI's mistress and confidante in the most celebrated court in Europe. When the plague kills a third of Avignon's population, Solange is accused of sorcery and is forced once again to reinvent herself and fight against a final, mortal conspiracy.

Muse
 is a sweeping historical epic that magically evokes the Renaissance, capturing a time and place caught between the shadows of the past and the promise of a new cultural awakening.
 
Mary Novik is a master storyteller. Her beautiful prose seamlessly blends into the historical era of 1309 where the book begins. From the first line of the novel we’re invested in Solange; her visions inside her mother’s womb deeply draw us into her deep consciousness : “I first heard my mother’s heartbeat from inside her dark, surrounding womb. It mingled with my own heart’s rhythm, then changed to a harsher, more strident beat. It was then that I had my first and most famous vision of man kneeling in a purple cassock and biretta.”

The character of Solange, has been inspired both by Pope Clement VI’s papal consort the Countess of Turenne and by the unknown mother of Petrarch’s children. It is clear that the author has invested a lot of time into her research for her references to the time period – such is the commitment that historical fiction demands. For the lay reader untutored with the historical, political and cultural milieu of the period the descriptions of Solange’s apprenticeship in the scriptorium were vivid and interesting.
“On page after page, I saw the intriguing words Beatrice and Amore. The lean, graceful script ran in one unbroken line. I practiced on used parchment while the librarian and Florentine mapped out folios and illuminations. Each of the forty-three brief chapters would have a miniature – but this time Florentine would draw his own cartoons. Once my wrist was supple and my letters sloping and continuous, I called for a folio of perfect velum.”
With a strong female lead, who uses her seductive wit and charm to secure her position with powerful men, Mary Novik manages to write a beautiful novel that is laden with historical, cultural and religious nuances, that take us back in time with an imaginative tale. Ultimately it is the travels of the seductive character that makes this an enticing page turner. 

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