Alessandra Cecchi just wants to paint, and when her father brings a painter to live with them while he decorates the family’s chapel, she is awed by his skills. But in Renaissance Italy, a woman is expected to marry and bear sons, not learn as much as a man and paint like one, too. So her parents arrange her marriage to an older, wealthy man, interrupting the nascent relationship between Alessandra and the young painter. Set during the turbulent rise and fall of the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, The Birth of Venus illuminates Florentine history through the eyes of a precocious young woman who, more than anything, wishes to decide her own fate.
Alessandra is a curious young woman who is determined to do as she pleases, despite the cultural expectation that she keep her head down and her mouth shut. She is flawed, for she often lets her inquisitive nature lead her into dangerous situations, but she so completely aspires to understand her world and make a place for herself that it is difficult to fault her. As she navigates through life in Florence, the monk Savonarola rises power, both religious and political, changing the city from the world full of wonder that Alessandra grew up with into a place of danger. This restless, unstable environment makes for a reflective narrative infused with a quiet suspense as Alessandra attempts to find the balance between what Florentine society will accept and what she believes is right.