This novel, Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant is a piece of historical fiction and part of a three-book pseudo-series. This particular one takes place during the later 16th century in Italy at a fictional convent called Ferrara. During this time, the economy was not too great, and fathers couldn’t afford to pay the dowries to marry more than one of their daughters. As a result, many of the younger women in wealthy families became brides of Christ, or nuns, because Jesus’ dowry cost less than an eligible bachelor.
One family has arranged for their daughter, Seraphina, to marry a man while their youngest daughter will be sent to a convent. However, the man falls for the youngest daughter instead. Seraphina thinks this is for the best because she is in love with her music teacher, and now she will legitimately be able to marry him. However, her father disallows it because they are of different social classes, and he sends her to Ferrara to become a nun.
The novel tells the story of Seraphina’s struggle to accept her fate as a nun. She befriends another nun, Suora Zuana, who runs the clinic or dispensary. The atmosphere inside the convent begins to mirror the political atmosphere outside the convent with one faction of the convent attempting to maintain some kids of comforts while the other reaches toward asceticism. Seraphina becomes a pawn in this political battle.
Sarah Dunant has a penchant for really engaging and informative historical fiction. I really enjoyed reading this piece and learning about both the daily life in convents and 16th century Italy. Sarah Dunant’s other piece that I read, The Birth of Venus, is also a very good example of historical fiction.
The ending in this piece is also a little quick for me. I don’t care for how long authors spend bringing their pieces to life, only to let them pass away with only a chapter. I realize that the piece has to end somewhere, but the book is 95% her struggle and only 5% conclusion. I want the ratio to be something more like 80/20.
Overall, though, I like this piece. I don’t know if it’s because I like historical fiction, because of my interest in religion, or because Sarah Dunant is such a good author. Regardless, I can’t wait to read the third piece in the collection, In the Company of the Courtesan.