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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Timeless Historical Charges Forward A Little Too Fast

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In a time when intelligent women are routinely burned at the stake, 14-year-old Alessandra Giliani knows exactly what she's risking to fulfill her lifelong dream. Still, she'd rather die than allow her brilliant mind to be snuffed out by the drudgeries of marriage and motherhood. She's got bigger plans. Disguising herself as a boy, Alessandra sets out for the University of Bologna. Female or not, she will gain all the education she needs to become a medico.

A Golden Web, Barbara Quick's second historical novel, follows Alessandra on her dangerous journey to become the first female anatomist. Her path is fraught with danger - any day, her family could discover she's snuck away from the convent; any moment, a discerning student could recognize her deception; any second, a jealous classmate could reveal her for the fraud she is. In the meantime, she soaks in as much learning as possible. Too late, she realizes that a certain handsome student is taking a very keen interest in her - and she wants nothing more than to reciprocate. Of all the risks she's taking, this one might be the one that undoes her completely ...

Although it's very predictable, A Golden Web moves at a fast enough clip to keep readers interested. Alessandra's a fascinating character - empathetic, admirable, and brave. Vivid period detail brings 14th Century Italy to life, taking us from the Giliani's bookmaking studio to the enlightening world of the university to the crooked alleys where women healers quietly practice their craft. Quick doesn't linger unnecessarily on the details, but keeps the story always moving forward. I, for one, would have enjoyed a slower, deeper immersion into Alessandra's rich, complex world. Since the book's intended for the fickle YA audience, it charges forward reaching its dramatic ending much too soon for my taste. Still and all, it's an engrossing look at the life of a brave - and possibly real - woman who dared to defy convention in pursuit of a dream. It's the kind of timeless story that should appeal to readers of all ages.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for sexual innuendo and gore

To the FTC, with love: I received this ARC from the generous folks at HarperTeen. Thanks!


  1. What an attractive cover! I love historical fiction and will add this one to my growing wishlist. Thanks for the review.

  2. The premise of this book sounds fascinating and ah! Italy! I will keep an eye out for this one.

  3. I was delighted to read your review of my debut YA novel, which was such a joy for me to research and write! Your followers might also enjoy reading my 2007 novel, VIVALDI'S VIRGINS, set in the orphanage in 18th century Venice where Antonio Vivaldi was resident priest and composer.

    There's more about both novels--and a tribute to YA book bloggers--at

  4. Read the story of the real girl behind the beautiful face on the cover of A GOLDEN WEB...


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