The year is 1570, and in the convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrara, noblewomen find space to pursue their lives under God's protection. But any community, however smoothly run, suffers tremors when it takes in someone by force. And the arrival of Santa Caterina's new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to its core.Ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, 16-year-old Serafina is willful, emotional, sharp, and defiant - young enough to have a life to look forward to and old enough to know when that life is being cut short. Her first night inside the walls is spent in an incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is dispatched to the girl's cell to sedate her. Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal between the young rebel and the clever, scholarly nun, for whom the girl becomes the daughter she will never have.As Serafina rails against her incarceration, others are drawn into the drama: the ancient, mysterious Suora Magdalena - with her history of visions and ecstasies - locked in her cell; the ferociously devout novice mistress Suora Umiliana, who comes to see in the postulant a way to extend her influence; and, watching it all, the abbess, Madonna Chiara, a woman as fluent in politics as she is in prayer. As disorder and rebellion mount, it is the abbess's job to keep the convent stable while, outside its walls, the dictates of the Counter-Reformation begin to purge the Catholic Church and impose on the nunneries a regime of terrible oppression.Sarah Dunant, the best-selling author of The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan, brings this intricate Renaissance world compellingly to life. Amid Sacred Hearts is a rich, engrossing, multifaceted love story, encompassing the passions of the flesh, the exultation of the spirit, and the deep, enduring power of friendship.More
"A cast of complex characters breathe new life into the classic star-crossed lovers trope while affording readers a look at a facet of Renaissance life beyond the far more common viscounts and courtesans. Dunant's an accomplished storyteller, and this is a rich and rewarding novel." (Publishers Weekly)
"Her painstaking portrait of this world, both its delights and its privations, is part of the pleasure of her story. ... Dunant's masterful portrait of both a time and a troubled adolescent's struggles builds the tension, as both the fate of Serafina and of the convent's way of life hangs in the balance." (Seattle Times)
"The story becomes a gripping thriller played out against a political battle between rival factions among the nuns. ... Dunant, wisely opting for modern dialogue rather than cod-Renaissance, heartbreakingly imparts the dread claustrophobia of a life sentence for girls who've barely begun to live." (Daily Mail, UK)
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