The Maiden of Florence

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Pub Date 18 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 11 Apr 2024

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Florence, 1584. Rumours are spreading about the virility of a prince marrying into the powerful Medici family. Orphan Giulia is chosen to put an end to the gossip. In return she will gain her freedom, and start a new life with a dowry and her own husband. Cloistered since childhood and an innocent in a world ruled by men, Giulia reluctantly agrees, only to be drawn under the control of the Medicis’ lecherous minister.

Years later, married and with a growing family, Giulia hopes she has finally escaped the legacy of her past. But when a threat arrives from a sinister figure from her youth, she must finally take control of events – and become the author of her own story.

Based on true events and reminiscent of The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell, The Maiden of Florence gives a charismatic voice to a woman cast aside by history.

Florence, 1584. Rumours are spreading about the virility of a prince marrying into the powerful Medici family. Orphan Giulia is chosen to put an end to the gossip. In return she will gain her...

Advance Praise

‘In The Maiden of Florence, Katherine Mezzacappa crafts a sensuous and raw story about beauty, sex, sacrifice, and a mother’s undying love, a moving delineation of what it means to be a humble pawn of powerful men finding dignity amid the chessboard of Renaissance Italy’ — Gina Buonaguro, author of The Virgins of Venice

'The Maiden of Florence is set in 16th Century Italy where women's bodies could easily be bought, but the novel proves that the internal life of a woman can never be a part of that bargain. Immaculately researched and imagined, rich in period detail and emotionally compelling, The Maiden of Florence is a historical fiction tour de force.' — Deborah Swift author of The Poison Keeper

‘Katherine Mezzacappa’s historical novel, The Maiden of Florence, was a delight to read. She has succeeded in seamlessly weaving faultless research into a fascinating true story. The novel is set in 16th-century Italy and shifts between Florence, Venice, and Mantua, which are all brought to life with authentic details that deftly bridge the centuries separating the reader from Giulia Albizzi, the protagonist. What stands out about this wonderful novel is how, as the reader follows Giulia’s struggle to lead a meaningful life despite the odds stacked so massively against her, Mezzacapa has succeeded in showing the immutable workings of the human heart underlying this unforgettable story.' — Elizabeth Mac Donald, author of A Matter of Interpretation

‘In The Maiden of Florence, Katherine Mezzacappa crafts a sensuous and raw story about beauty, sex, sacrifice, and a mother’s undying love, a moving delineation of what it means to be a humble pawn...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781914148507
PRICE £14.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 47 members

Featured Reviews

This haunting historical novel is both tender and terrifying. The abuse of power by the political and ruling class is chillingly portrayed in this compelling story.

The villains are breathtakingly evil, and our heroine is both tender and pragmatic. I found parts of the book difficult to read because of its brutality, but it was a compelling tale, documented by the authorvas favtually based.

I seek out historical novels for tge escape, but also to learn about different periods and people. This was an eye-opener in many ways.

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In a long letter to the mother she never knew, Giulia is looking back on her life in northern Italy in the late 16th century. She grew up in two orphanages and manages to 'escape' by reluctantly agreeing to help a Medici prince prove he is capable of deflowering a virgin.

That and the aftermath destroy her, and even though her reward is freedom, a dowry and a husband, she has to navigate her way through life with the knowledge and the consequences of having been abused. On top of that, the minister of the de Medici's draws her under his control for the rest of his life.

The first person narrative is what makes this story compelling. Giulia may be a bit older, but she is still searching for answers. Her thoughts are still her own and that’s why she is such a strong character.

I also like the atmosphere Mezzacappa creates. Giulia is living her life with Giuliano and the kids. However darkness is looming everywhere and fate strikes at regular intervals. Yet she fights back time and time again. She is a fighter and a survivor till the bitter end. Maybe I had expected even more bouts of bad luck in the beginning of the book, but there are more than enough things happening to keep the story going.

There are a lot of explicit scenes but the story needs those to show that women were often were nothing more than objects that could be traded. It didn’t disturb me as it quite often does.

I loved reading this book. I was hooked from the start and it gives you a nice view of what living in Italy in the 16th century could have been like when you were dealt bad cards.

Thank you NetGalley and Fairlight Books for this ARC!

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This was a lovely novel - Mezzacappa's prose was enjoyable all the way through, and our protagonist Giulia became vibrant and engaging as we learn more about her life and struggles throughout the text. For fans of Medici history, or just historical fiction in general, I think this text would be a great choice. I wouldn't assign this full text for a course, but might include a few chapters in a literature or a history course.

Rounding 4.5 to 5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC.

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𝗞𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗠𝗲𝘇𝘇𝗮𝗰𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗮


📖 The text is a little slow at first, but the explanations get clearer as the storyline progresses. The tone is conveyed well, and difficult,triggering themes are dealt with appropriately.
📖 I did not expect the husband's POV too. It was a pleasant surprise, and added more layers to the storyline.
📖 The POV change right when Giulia was about to be married ( something she had been wishing for ardently ) seemed poignantly significant.
However, I felt that Giuliano's acceptance of her was a tad bit too swift. Perhaps a bit more lingering on his dilemmas and feelings would have been suitable, especially with the fact that he restored two of his wife's most precious memories to her, out of his own novelty.
📖 The mention of the funeral candles hit me like a truck. The delivery of the tragedy was incredibly powerful and suitably depressing, I almost cried.
The constant comparisons Giuliano mentally entertained, regarding 'The Prince's son who lived' and his own daughter who wasn't granted that privilege, was very well executed.
📖 There is a certain air in Katherine's writing that carries the tone of the era quite well. Not everyone will be used to it, but for fans of those times, it is undoubtedly a most enjoyable experience.
📖 The ardent love between Giulia and her husband was a comforting presence in a story otherwise marred by tragedy and torture. It was an optimistic ray of light in the dystopian darkness of the tale.
📖 Ending with the closure from her mother's side was a good idea. Overall, the narration is beautiful, and the story zeroes in on a forgotten character of the history books, one of the many women who deserve to be known. It was a mesmerizingly educational experience.

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Anyone who knows me will know just how picky I am when it comes to historical fiction, more so when it comes to historical fiction that concerns the Italian Renaissance. There is so much out there that is just wrong...sorry, I'll get off my soap box now. There was something about 'The Maiden of Florence' by Katherine Mezzacappa that drew me to it - perhaps it was the fact that Florence feels like home to me, or perhaps it was that stunning front cover. Or both. Both is good.

'The Maiden of Florence' tells the story of Giulia, a young orphan from the Pieta orphanage. Her life there is rough, almost prison like, and she is resigned to living a life in the convent. After all, there is no life out there for an orphan. That is until strangers show up at the orphanage. They promise her freedom and a husband - all she has to do is agree to a mission that is of great importance to Florence. She isn't told exactly what this mission is, but it soon becomes clear to the reader that she is meant to sleep with a prince who is to marry into the Medici family. Rumours abound that this prince cannot perform his sexual duties and to Giulia must help put an end to this gossip.

As the tale progresses the reader becomes acutely aware of the Giulia's confusion and revulsion as she is put through test after test to make sure she is worthy, her hatred of the man who has orchestrated the whole thing and her desperate desire to be loved. She falls for the prince she is essentially pimped out to only to have her heart broken, she is forced to endure her child being taken from her and whilst she finds some solace in the man who is found to be her husband as well as her children. She must still face the constant threat of Vinta - the one who forced her into bed with the prince and then forced himself on her afterwards - and the ongoing trauma that she must deal with. Despite all of this though she does live a happy and fulfilled life, showing that there is sunshine after a storm.

Mezzacappa tells this story, perhaps unusually, in the first person. There aren't many that can write a story that grips you using this tense and Mezzacappa does so masterfully. The prose flows nicely. allowing the reader to be fully immersed in the hustle of Florence and the twisting alleyways of Florence. More so it brings with it an incredible amount of emotion - there were times I felt Giulia's repulsion and her heartache. It's been a long time since I have felt this way whilst reading a novel.

This book is so incredibly well done and no matter how hard I try, I can't find any fault with it. Mezzacappa has created something wonderful here, and I urge anyone with an interest in historical fiction or Renaissance Italy to read it. You won't be disappointed.


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A brilliant fictionalized account of the Congress of Venice, richly imagining the life of orphan Giulia after she was exploited for the purpose of the Italian crown in the early 1600s. Mezzacappas epistolary novel is written from Giulias point of view as a letter to her mother, where she recounts not only the heartbreaking events surrounding the loss of her innocence to the Prince, but the unexpected happiness she finds in her life with her promised husband, Guliano. The humiliation, confusion and fear Giulia experiences is heartbreaking, and I couldn't help but become invested in her story. Her struggle to find a place that was hers where she felt safe and loved, after such misuse and indifferent treatment, was her own act of defiance in a time when a woman's worth was dependent on their usefulness to men. This is a beautiful story of a woman's resilience and quiet strength.

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Wow wow wow, this was incredible! I learned so much in this book, without it being overwhelming or too complicated. The time of the Medici's has always been so interesting to me, so to see things from this angle was refreshing. I did have to do a bit of a wiki spiral to get all of my ducks in a row, but I was really glad of it. I'm a sucker for historical fiction that isn't about the First or Second World Wars so this was just amazing.

My only qualm is whether Giulia was a real person or not? I know the other key players were, as little as I could find on them but for Giulia I'm not sure. For her to have been an unrecongized orphan, it unlikely that she was Giulia de' Medici (the illegitimate but recognized daughter or Alessandro de' Medici). Plus the timelines in this book don't align with her (b. 1535, d. 1588).

The author did an amazing job in terms of the writing. I felt all the feelings when reading Giulia's passages, and was so happy when we were given those of Giuliano! I honestly have so much praise for this book, it totally got me out of my reading slump and was just so interesting!! I'll absolutely grab a print copy once published (also helps that the cover is stunning!), and I look forward to any other books the author may bring out

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The Maiden of Florence by Katherine Mezzacappa is an absolutely stunning work of literature set in an era that I knew little about but am now absolutely invested

The first thing to note is that Katherine Mezzacappa writes beautifully, her writing style is authentic and her research clearly extensive. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and I was really glad to get my teeth into a new historical genre. This is in no way a quick read and that makes it even better, so very fulfilling!

I will certainly be re-reading and looking for more frrom Katherine Mezzacappa!

Thank you to Netgalley, Fairlight Books and the Author for this incredible ARC. My review is left voluntarily and all opinions are my own

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I really loved this book! I read a lot of historical fiction and I have a particular interest in 15-1600s history. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this unique a premise in this genre! Reminiscent of Sarah Dunant, I loved the personalized yet completely time-logical way of speaking from the main character as we weave through her life. Giuliano…what a guy! It made me so happy to see their marriage.
This poignant tale of what a woman’s body means in the hands of men, and the deeper thread of power and sexuality, has strong ties to modern issues.

Thank you NetGalley! A must read for hist fic friends

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This was a wonderfully done historical fiction novel, it had everything that I was hoping for and enjoyed the 1584 elements in this book. It had everything that I was hoping for in a historical setting and that the characters were everything that I was hoping for in the period. I enjoyed the true event elements that worked with the story and glad I got to read this.

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The Maiden of Florence was such an interesting read. It is a fictional account of a real girl, Giulia, an orphan who was offered up as a maiden for the Prince of Mantua to prove his virility. The book reads like a memoir, and is written mostly from the point of view of Giulia, with one part written from the POV of Giuliano. I really liked having two different voices in the narrative, and I think having Giuliano's perspective made it a bit lighter. Giulia's chapters are brutally honest about her trials and her harsh reality of being born a woman in Medici Florence. I was shocked when I reached the end to find the author's Historial Note saying that a good portion of the book was based on actual documents, including some of the quotes. Despite Giulia's despicable treatment by her "betters", her story is one of hope and resilience. If you're a historical fiction reader, or have an interest in 16th century Florence/Venice, I would definitely recommend this.

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