Leonardo’s Swans fits into the historical fiction drama. It is based on the lives of two sisters – Isabella and Beatrice – who actually existed. Both were alive in Italy around the time of the Renaissance.
The sisters were born into a very rich family. The girls were each betrothed when Isabella was six-years-old and Beatrice was five-years-old to men they had not met. The entire story is presented from the viewpoint of Isabella, or the viewpoint of Beatrice.
Isabella, blond, thin, intelligent and refined, is to marry a Marquis when she turns 15. Francesco is handsome, despite being short and having bulging eyes. He is also very charismatic, and young (about 25-years-old or so). He pays a lot of attention to Isabella, courting her before the two are married.
Beatrice, who is shorter, plumper, and less educated than her sister, is very adept with horses. Beatrice is to be wed to a 40-year-old Duke, who ignores her. He continually pushes off the wedding date. Everyone knows that the Duke has a mistress, whom he has been treating as his wife, and who might be pregnant.
At first glance, it seems like Isabella has the better match, by nothing more than a twist of fate. As the story goes on, things change around. By the end, it is impossible to say which of the two sisters really had a better life.
The book is much more than just a report of the two sisters’ romances. It is filled with vivid descriptions of the different parts of Italy, the clothing the women are wearing, the horses they ride, the homes they live in, and more importantly, the art they commission. The Duke has employed a great artist to create sculptures and paintings for him, and its none other than Leonardo Da Vinci.
If you are at all familiar with his work, you will be delighted each time it appears in the story. The actual history about who appears in Da Vinci’s paintings is woven into the story. It is a treat to view the paintings through Isabella’s eyes, who sees them all as brand new and miraculous.
As if that weren’t enough for one book, Essex adds more. The book include plenty of political intrigue. Many small and large power struggles are going on in the years that the book takes place, and Essex has described them as they occurred. Some of it is like watching chess match; some is more like a soap opera.