Rated of 5
Exceptional historical fiction
I have to admit the only reason I picked up "Courtesan" was because it was a Bookbrowse "Favorite Book Nominee" for 2006, and I'd had very good luck with the site's recommendations. Once I actually received the book, however, I was convinced I'd made a mistake (yes, I DO tend to judge books by their covers). I was very concerned this would be a sappy romance, or historically inaccurate, or yet another mediocre novel based on an author's imagined story behind a famous painting. I am very happy to say I was dead wrong, and once again Bookbrowse was on the money.
Historical fiction novels can be rich on characterizations, but skimp on details of time or place. They can also contain so much detail that the reader ends up skipping paragraphs (or even pages) out of boredom. "Courtesan" walks the fine line between those two extremes. The reader is transported to 16th-century Venice, with all its sights and smells and sounds, but the author's descriptions are never so protracted that the reader loses interest. Her characters feel like real people -- people who have mixed motives, who make mistakes. I came to care for them deeply, and was sorry to leave them behind when the book ended. The plot also moves along at a nice clip.
This is one book I'll be recommending to my reading friends. (Even the guys.)