In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover

In Print
This novel does what readers expect from any good historical—it transports them to another time and place to challenge the imagination to experience the lives of characters in a distant past.

After the sacking of Rome in 1527, famed courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini must escape the ruins of the city in the hopes of surviving to reestablish her life and career. At her right hand as always is Bucino Teodoldo, an intelligent and witty dwarf who does everything from managing her finances to entertaining her clients. The ruination of war has left them both broke—save for a few gems swallowed in the haste of escape—and has left Fiammetta looking like a ravaged shell of her former beauty. Together they escape to Venice, Fiammetta's home town, and take up residence in her old family residence. Slowly they work to restore Fiammetta's appearance through wigs and hearty meals, while plotting their strategy for her triumphant return. But they can't be as discerning as they used to be, and as a man from their past surfaces in Venice, he brings not only haunting memories, but an offer of assistance.

Book Cover

On Audio
This novel started out slow for me. I'm usually rather easily enthralled by historical novels, but I found my attention drifting too frequently in the opening chapters. To my surprise, however, the novel picked up nicely once the decision was made to flee to Venice. I suppose it was the author's logical choice to start with the sack of Rome for an action-packed opening. But really, it's when the two main characters have a chance to interact one-on-one that the novel first gained interest for me. And indeed, that is what carried me through this novel, the unique dynamic it generates between Fiammetta and Bucino, a relationship that is in some ways more intense than that of mere lovers or ordinary friends. The book also adapts quite well to audio. The story is told consistently in Bucino's point of view, and Richard Grant's narration strikes an excellent balance between accenting Bucino's character and letting Dunant's prose shine for its own merits.


S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.