Sacred Hearts

Sacred Hearts

by Sarah Dunant

Patti's Pages: In 16th century Italy, families packed their daughters off to a convent if they could not afford a dowry substantial enough for a suitable husband. An angry young woman arrives at the convent in Ferrara, due to such circumstances, as have many others before her. Named Serafina at the convent, she becomes a pawn in the convent political game, as the moderate and self-confident abbess battles the very conservative novice mistress, who would have the convent completely cut off from the outside world in order to serve God more fully. (The two particularly disagree on the significance of various signs, including one in which termites cause a surprising interruption of a communion service.)

The young novice's heavenly singing voice is much coveted by the choir, and her recalcitrance renders her a challenging prospect for the convent's flock. She shows a talent for herbs and pharmacology, as she is initially paired with Suora Zuana, the convent's dispensary mistress and pseudo-physician. Suora Zuana is uncertain of her own devotion and sees a kindred spirit, or perhaps the daughter she never had, in Serafina. Suora Zuana has come to cherish her cloistered life, as it offers a modicum of independence and career fulfillment, if you will, that she would not enjoy as a wife and mother. Unlike Serafina, who views the convent as a lifelong prison, Suora Zuana is content there in her pursuit of knowledge. In any case, Suora Zuana allows her affection for Serafina to blind her to Serafina's covert misdeeds and thus jeopardizes her own position as the abbesss friend and confidante. There are several twists in the story, causing me to utter aloud, The plot thickens!
Rating: ****

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