Publisher: Manifold Press
In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.
As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.
But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.
Ardent is very well researched and it shows. I loved the descriptions of the settings—they were very easy to visualize and made me feel as though I was there watching everything going on as I was reading. I enjoyed learning about the artists’ process, and especially the day to day life of the masters and their apprentices in the workshops of the time. I also appreciated that the two main characters couldn’t be openly together, and that the risk of discovery was never far from their minds as this added another layer of realism to the story. I loved the descriptive language and thought it suited the time period of the story well.
Morello and Benedetto are interesting characters with quite different personalities. I liked the way their pasts impacted on the decisions they made, and how they see themselves. The supporting ‘cast’ is made up of diverse characters with their own backstories, and I’d love to read more about them, especially Dea, an old friend of Leo’s.
I thought the mystery was well written, with several red herrings, and I liked the politics that played into it. Some of the revelations were obvious, others I had to go back and re-read because I was sure I’d missed something, although I must admit I scratched my head over one bit, as I would have thought that one of the POVs would have mentioned it before the other character—and the readers—find out about it, considering the guilt attached to the action. As the story progresses and the stakes rise, the action picks up its pace. I particularly loved the ending, and thought the paint on—read the book to find out!—hand was a nice touch. I’d comment more about that but don’t want to give away any spoilers.
I’d recommend Ardent to readers who enjoy a well researched historical with lush descriptions, interesting characters, and a murder mystery. 4 out of 5 stars.