Book Review: The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt

About the Book:


It is the height of the Renaissance and its flowering of intellectual and artistic endeavour, but the city state of Florence is in the grip of fundamentalist preacher Friar Girolamo Savonarola. Its good people believe the Lord speaks through him, just as certainly as the Sun circles the Earth.

For Leonarda Lunetta, eldest daughter of the learned Signore Vincenzio Fusili, religion is not as interesting as the books she shares with her beloved father. Reading is an escape from the ridicule flung her way, for Luna is not like other girls. She was born with a misshapen leg and that, and her passion for intellectual pursuits alters how society sees her and how she sees the world.

Luna wants to know, to learn, to become an astronomer who charts the night sky – certainly not the dutiful, marriageable daughter all of Florence society insists upon. So, when Luna meets astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, she is not surprised that his heretical beliefs confirm her view that the world is not as it is presented – or how it could be. These dangerous ideas bring her into conflict with the preacher Savonarola, and her future is changed irrevocably as politics, extremism and belief systems ignite in a dangerous conflagration.

Luna is a woman born out of time, the brightest star of her generation, but can she reconcile the girl of her father’s making with this new version of herself? And if she does, will Renaissance Italy prove too perilous and dark a place for a free-thinking woman?

Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia – HQ Fiction AU

Released 6th July 2022

My Thoughts:

Florence is one of my favourite settings for a novel and the Renaissance is one of my favourite eras, so it should come as no surprise that I was drawn to this latest release by Emma Harcourt, The Brightest Star. The events unfold during the dark period upon which Florence was within the grips of the extremist Savonarola, a preacher who sacked the city, expelled the Medici’s, destroyed so much art and so many books, all in the name of religious purity. At the time of this story, the Medici’s are in exile and plotting with loyalists to raise an army to return. The atmosphere within Florence is one of volatility, fear an ever-present undercurrent for families of means as they wait for Savonarola to cast his eyes their way for the slightest of provocations. To date, I had only read up to the period where the Medici’s were exiled, so I found it quite fascinating to dive into this period through fiction. I thought the tensions and volatility were conveyed through the narrative with precision, keeping the reader on edge, a certain sense of doom pervading all and giving you cause to brace yourself for what you surely knew was inevitable.

Luna is the eldest child of one of Florence’s leading families. Propelled by guilt, her father has nurtured her precocious mind through the provision of an education that is usually reserved for sons. It is only as Luna approaches adulthood that he begins to rue his decision, viewing her educated mind as much of a repellent for suitable husbands and a secure future as her deformed leg. As Luna becomes increasingly aware of the fate her father plans for her, she resists as much as she can, with the ultimate and most tragic of consequences. But it is in the aftermath of tragedy that Luna realises her full potential. I particularly enjoyed these later scenes where Luna is coming to terms with her grief whilst grappling with a yearning for knowledge that may not be barred to her any longer within her newfound circumstances. The early ideas of female agency tied in with female hysteria and the ‘harmfulness’ of educating women were tightly woven into the narrative, giving a well fleshed out story that reflected the politics of 15th century Florentine society within the context of a woman born a step out of her own time.

‘It was wrong that women were damned and silenced for expressing any of the glorious and complicated emotions they felt.’

Overall, I found The Brightest Star to be a most engaging read, tense and interesting, highlighting an era of history that has not been overly plundered through fiction. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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