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In seventeenth-century Florence, Zummo, a Sicilian sculptor, is secretly charged by the Grand Duke to create a life-size wax replica of a woman and finds himself surrounded by a web of jealousies and betrayals, as he takes a lover and is shadowed by a mysterious priest. - (Baker & Taylor)

Summoned by Cosimo III to join the repressive Medici court of the late 17th century, Sicilian sculptor Zummo is commissioned to make a life-sized wax figure of the Grand Duke's French wife only to become enamored of his mysterious subject and endure targeting by a vindictive Dominican priest. Reprint. - (Baker & Taylor)

A sorcerer in wax. A fugitive. Haunted by a past he cannot escape. Threatened by a future he cannot imagine.

Zummo, a Sicilian sculptor, is summoned by Cosimo III to join the Medici court. Late seventeenth-century Florence is a hotbed of repression and hypocrisy. All forms of pleasure are brutally punished, and the Grand Duke himself, a man for whom marriage has been an exquisite torture, hides his pain beneath a show of excessive piety.

The Grand Duke asks Zummo to produce a life-size woman out of wax, an antidote to the French wife who made him suffer so. As Zummo wrestles with this unique commission, he falls under the spell of a woman whose elusiveness mirrors his own, but whose secrets are far more explosive. Lurking in the wings is the poisonous Dominican priest, Stufa, who has it within his power to destroy Zummo’s livelihood, if not his life.

In this highly charged novel, Thomson brings Florence to life in all its vibrant sensuality, while remaining entirely contemporary in his exploration of the tensions between love and solitude, beauty and decay. When reality becomes threatening, not to say unfathomable, survival strategies are tested to the limit. Redemption is a possibility, but only if the agonies of death and separation can be transcended. - (Random House, Inc.)

Author Biography

Rupert Thomson is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, includingThe Insult, which was short-listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize and chosen by David Bowie as one of his Top 100 Must-Read books of all time, andDeath of a Murderer, which was short-listed for the Costa Prize. His memoir,This Party’s Got to Stop, won the Writers’ Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year. He lives in London. - (Random House, Inc.)

First Chapter or Excerpt
I had left my hometown of Siracusa in 1675, the rumors snapping at my heels like a pack of dogs. I was only nineteen, but I knew there would be no turning back. I passed through Catania and on along the coast, Etna looming in the western sky, Etna with its fertile slopes, its luscious fruits and ?owers, its promise of destruction. From Messina I sailed westward. It was late July, and the night was sti?ing. A dull red moon, clouds edged in rust and copper. Though the air was motion-less, the sea heaved and strained, as if struggling to free itself, and there were moments when I thought the boat was going down. That would have been the death of me, and there were those who would have rejoiced to hear the news.

I was in Palermo for a year or two, then I boarded a ship again and traveled northeast, to Naples. I hadn’t done what they said I’d done, but there’s a kind of truth in a well-told lie, and that truth can cling to you like the taste of raw garlic or the smell of smoke. People are always ready to believe the worst. Sometimes, in the viscous, fumbling hours before dawn, as I was forced once again to leave my lodgings for fear of being discovered or denounced, such a bitterness would seize me that if I happened to pass a mirror I would scarcely recognize myself. Other times I would laugh in the face of what pursued me. Let them twist the facts. Assassinate my character. Let them rake their muck. I would carve a path for myself, something elaborate and glorious, beyond their wildest imaginings. I would count on no one. Have no one count on me. I was in many places, but I had my work and I believed that it would save me. All the same, I lived close to the surface of my skin, as men do in a war, and I carried a knife on me at all times, even though, in most towns, it was forbidden, and every now and then I would go back over the past, touching cautious ?ngers to the damage. It was in this frame of mind, always watchful, often sleepless, that I made my way, ?nally, to Florence.

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Booklist Reviews

Florence is a dangerous place for freethinkers, lovers, and artists at the end of the seventeenth century. An atmosphere of repression has settled over the region, and people are held in check by religious figures in powerful places. Zummo the wax sculptor has been summoned there by the grand duke, Cosimo III, and after years of wandering, he is pleased with the pay and relative freedom the duke's patronage affords. No stranger to scandal and conspiracy, though, he recognizes the dangers inherent in the duke's secretive commission and in his own burgeoning love for the niece of the apothecary. As the domineering Dominican priest Stufa closes in, Zummo must find a way to release them all from the grip of Florence's darkest powers. Though some anachronistic details occasionally interrupt the realism, Thomson brings Renaissance-era Florence to life with rich descriptions and scenic locales. Readers who have toured Florence will enjoy revisiting the sites in the mind's eye, and historical fiction fans in general will relish the virtual trip brimming with mystery and intrigue. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

In 2010, Thomson gave readers a glimpse into his personal life with a heartbreaking memoir, This Party's Got To Stop. No stranger to historical fiction (Air & Fire), he sets his new work in 17th-century Florence, drawing on the life of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, a Sicilian sculptor granted patronage by the grand duke of Tuscany to create a replica of his wife in wax. Given the cultural climate of Florence and the looming threat of the Roman Inquisition, it is a dangerous commission. In the process of completing the grand duke's order, the novel's protagonist, Gaetano Zummo, falls in love with a local woman with a dark past, runs afoul of a Dominican priest, and uncovers the complicated relationship that links them all together. Through picturesque language, the historical space of Florence becomes an ideological filter through which concepts of power, religion, and identity are interpreted and critiqued. VERDICT A page-turning historical thriller by one of Britain's finest writers; Thomson's lyrical and economical style draws comparisons to George Eliot's Romola.—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

[Page 69]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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