Signora Da Vinci follows the life of Caterina, the mother of Leonardo da Vinci. Only fifteen when she gave birth to her illegitimate son, not much is known about her or her fate within history. Maxwell takes these loose threads and creates a masterpiece of historical fiction around this enigmatic and charismatic woman.
Determined to watch over and protect her son no matter what the cost, Caterina embarks on a heretical and highly dangerous plan that leads her away from her small hometown of Vinci. She slowly becomes embroiled within the plans of the powers that be and her fate becomes intertwined with the future of the great city of Florence.
Signora Da Vinci is an adventure, from beginning to end. The blurb on the back of the book gives away little, if any, of the plot, so the reader has no idea what is in store for the rest of the novel. Too often, historical fiction simply spits back at us what we already know; indeed, as an avid reader of the genre, I have read about the events contained within this book many times. However, Maxwell provides the reader with a completely new look at these goings-on. It is difficult not to love the mystery and conspiracy that takes place in the last third of the book. It is very refreshing to read and keeps the readerís attention centered on the novel.
The characters in Signora Da Vinci are written impressively. Maxwell has a knack for breathing life into long-dead characters; they come alive with force and vigor, leaping off the page larger than life. There is no question why Caterina falls in love with someone because the reader, too, is falling in love with him. That level of empathy is difficult to create, and Maxwell does it well.
Maxwell is one of the queens of historical fiction, but her previous work lies in Tudor England. Renaissance Italy is a new subject for her, but she tackles it like a pro. I look forward to seeing where and when she ends up next.