The Courtesan’s Lover by Gabrielle Kimm

The Courtesan's Lover by Gabrielle Kimm(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Francesca Felizzi knows she wields an immense power over men. Her patrons see only a carefree courtesan, and they pay handsomely for the privilege of her time. Francesca never saw him coming, the man who cracked her heart open and ruined her for the job. But he’s shown her what a gaudy facade she’s built, and she doesn’t know how to tear it down without taking her beloved daughters with her. The wrong move could plunge all of them into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she began her perilous work all those years ago.

An exquisite tale that explores the intricate nature of a mother’s heart. The Courtesan’s Lover draws you close and whispers in your ear. In the tradition of Sarah Dunant and Marina Fiorato, a compelling and vibrant tale from an up-and-coming fresh voice that readers will want to savor.

I’ll be honest with you guys: the only reason I bought this book was because it was on sale at 3 books for $10 and I needed a third book to get the discount.  The cover of my edition was hideous and the blurb sounded somewhat interesting but pretty stereotypical.  That’s why I didn’t really pick up the book until I was on my holidays around Christmas.  And lo and behold, Gabrielle Kimm surprised me.

Francesca is a main character that you can’t help but love.  She plays the carefree courtesan well and interacts on a more personal level with all of her clients but on the inside you can tell she wants something more out of life.  Even if she doesn’t know it in the beginning, Francesca always wanted a better life for herself and for her daughters in particular.  When she suddenly falls in love with the upstanding father of a young client things suddenly spiral out of control and she realizes just how empty a life she was living before.  In Luca, she suddenly sees everything that her life could be and despite the fact she’ll have to live modestly without her courtesan’s income, Francesca is determined to make a new life for herself.  It’s actually a rather touching journey and of course not everything goes according to plan for our main character.

Francesca is very well fleshed out and she’s definitely the main character but Gabrielle Kimm also lets us see things from the eyes of the other characters, most notably Luca and Modesto.  Luca is a kind of upstanding old patrician who thinks Francesca is a pure and innocent widow; at the same time he has a lot of depth and can be very progressive for a man of the time.  Modesto (in my opinion) is far more fascinating.  He’s a gifted singer, which meant in 16th century Napoli that he had been castrated before puberty so that he would always have a pure, high voice with the power of a full grown man’s lungs.  He’s nominally Francesca’s servant but he acts as both a pimp and a caregiver.  It’s his war with his feelings for Francesca with the reality of his situation (particularly the fact that she loves Luca) that makes him almost as fascinating as Francesca herself.  Yes, I’m sort of a sucker for tragic figures.

This is not a fast-paced book, even by historical fiction standards.  It’s very interesting, especially because Kimm seems to know her way around 16th century Napoli so well.  There are just little details from everyday life that make the whole book far more interesting and make the characters and their world come alive.  The whole time I read The Courtesan’s Lover I felt like I was in Napoli along with Francesca, Modesto and Luca.  And considering the fact that I knew almost nothing about the time period coming into the novel, that’s no mean feat.  So while the book is not fast-paced it is a thoroughly enjoyable read because the plot itself is interesting.

I wouldn’t say that the plot is unpredictable but it does have the occasional surprise.  Some wrenches get thrown into the works but I think it’s pretty easy to predict the ending of this book.  But you know what?  Sometimes you just need a guilty pleasure read, one that will suck you into a whole new world and make you fall in love with its characters even if you can predict what’s going to happen at the end.  Even though I didn’t know it at the time, that’s exactly what I needed so I’m very glad that I picked up The Courtesan’s Lover by chance.  If the blurb intrigues you and you get a chance to buy the book, go ahead.  We all need a little more lighthearted romance in our lives sometimes.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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