What can I say about Sarah Dunant's In the Company of the Courtesan?, except to say that I absolutely loved this book. Wonderfully well written, atmospheric, a complete joy to read, which held me enthralled from start to finish.
The novel opens in Rome in 1527 as it is about to be sacked by the soldiers of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Fiammetta Bianchini, a Roman courtesan, and her business partner and friend, the dwarf Bucino Teodoldi are desperately attempting to protect their property and themselves from the wrath of the military forces about to be unleashed upon them. Having survived (just) the sack of the city, the friends flee to Venice, which is about to become the leading city of the High Renaissance. Upon arrival Bianchini and Bucino are forced to start from scratch again. Once recovered their rise will be astronomical, but when Bucino falls in love he makes a terrible mistake.....
This is a wonderful read. Richly atmospheric, it brings the period, the cities, and day-to-day life in this bustling fast moving society to wonderful vibrant life. Bianchini is an engaging, intelligent woman, but the real voice that stands out in this novel is that of the dwarf, Bucino. The novel is narrated through his mediumship, and he is a well-rounded character - gutsy and intelligent. Although he should be (and indeed is in some ways) on the edge of society - he has turned his disability into an advantage which has enabled him to move up in society. The courtesan and her dwarf's position on the edge, but not outside society, gives them a unique view of Venetian society and the rules that govern it.
In fact this read was the perfect counterbalance to my recent viewing of The Borgias, showing a slightly different take on the society of Renaissance Italy. This is a great piece of historical fiction, often genuinely informative (it filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the period), it's a great read sometimes bawdy, often funny, and sometimes very scary. Highly recommended.