Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
The convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrera is a fairly privileged place in Renaissance Italy. There are nuns prized for their voices, rich women with stores of fine wine, and a powerful abbess from a powerful family. In other cities bishops are beginning to crack down on convents as part of the Counter-Reformation, but so far Santa Caterina is safe.
Then, a young novice, Serafina, is brought to the convent. Ripped from a love affair, Serafina is distraught and does not want to be at Santa Caterina. An older nun, Zuana, mistress of the dispensary, begins to form a relationship with Serafina at the request of the Abbess and comes to truly care for the girl. As Serafina begins to acclimate, or seemingly so, to life at the convent, events are sent in motion that may threaten the independence of Santa Caterina.
I really enjoyed “Sacred Hearts.” At times I had trouble keeping all but the four or five main nuns straight, but Dunant brought life in an Italian Renaissance-era convent to life, a setting I’ve never experienced before in historical fiction. Although the meat of the story did not start very quickly, I was never bored and enjoyed the atmosphere as well as the plot.
If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a good one.