Cloistered. Sarah Dunant transports readers into a convent in 16th century Italy to tell an engaging story about the lives of women during that period. Sacred Hearts is a well-told story featuring a cast of fully developed characters who reveal so many aspects of human nature and the range of our behavior that at times I forgot the action was taking place behind the walls of a cloistered Benedictine convent. The Council of Trent has just ended and reforms are being implemented by bishops. Convent life is about to change, and the convent of Santa Caterina in the town of Ferrara is trying to keep a low profile and maintain good relations with their bishop. The abbess, Madonna Chiara, is equal parts CEO and politician, and she runs convent meetings expertly, charms money from the local swells, and gives the bishop what he wants. Born to a noble Ferrara family, Chiara has lived inside the convent since she was a child. The novice mistress, Suora Umiliana, would like the convent to return to greater simplicity and mortification of the flesh. A newly arrived novice, Serafina, provides the tension in the novel. She’s been sent to the nunnery to end what he father considered an undesirable relationship with a fellow musician. She’s mentored by protagonist Suora Zuana, who was also sent to the convent against her will following the death of her physician father. Zuana is the dispensary mistress and provides medical care to the nuns. Sacred Hearts is fine historical fiction that will captivate any reader who enjoys good writing and the joy of arriving in an unfamiliar place and uncovering a full range of behavior that displays human nature.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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