Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen - 400 pgs

Book CoverAfter being caught in a compromising situation while studying with the great Michelangelo, Sofonisba Anguissola, a premiere painter of her time, decides to leave her home in Cremona, Italy to become the painting instructor and lady-in-waiting to the new Queen, Elisabeth de Valois. Arriving at court, Sofonisba meets the young and inexperienced queen as she first arrives at the palace, never expecting that Elisabeth will become her most cherished friend. Though the relationship between the king and queen is at first cool, the king soon becomes greatly enchanted by the young queen and begins to excessively dote on her and endlessly attempts to produce an heir with her. The queen, full of spirit and life, soon turns her attention elsewhere and finds that she has much in common with the three new young men in court: the king's son Don Carlos, his nephew Don Alessandro, and his illegitimate half brother Don Juan. The naïve Elisabeth quickly becomes entangled in a dangerous love triangle with both the king and Don Juan, a situation that causes no end of worry to Sofonisba. As the king and Don Juan grow ever more enamored of the young queen, the king becomes increasingly jealous and demanding of his wife's attention, a situation that puts Don Juan at great risk. Filled with political, religious and romantic intrigue, The Creation of Eve documents the trials of a powerful woman in love with two men and the havoc it wreaks upon her life as well as Sofonisba's.

The story in this book focuses on two very different women. The first, Sofonisba, is greatly bereaved by her decision to leave her family after a rash act threatens to ruin her reputation. Though she is very successful in her own right, her love for another of Michelangelo's students puts her at a disadvantage and rather than face the threat of scandal, she resigns herself to accept a position at court. As Sofonsiba plots a course to change her future, she realizes that that she is leaving the passion of her youth behind and struggles through her feelings of despair even as she begins her relationship as the queen's confidante. The queen, on the other hand, is young and fresh and hopes that her allure will be all that is needed to keep her husband from straying from her bedside. She is the kind of woman who is not savvy in her intrigues and is unable to keep from casting about in her desire for male attention. Sofonisba and the queen, though both kind and generous women, are very different. While the queen is unscrupulous and flighty, Sofonisba is more secretive and wary of all around her. The juxtaposition between the two woman gave this story an uncommon amount of depth, and I found it very interesting that despite the women's great differences, they had a lot in common as well.

While the queen professed to love the king, it was with great alarm and uncertainty that I read about her relations with the other men at court. The queen, while professing to love one man, flirted shamelessly with another and lusted after yet a third! There were points that she verbally dallied with the king's son Don Carlos, but I suspect this was done in order to keep her real passion for Don Juan hidden. The king seemed to be led around by the nose by the queen, and I believe that is why it took so long for him to discover his wife's passion for his half-brother. It was a wicked game she played, one that kept everyone off balance, with no one but Sofi able to realize exactly what she was doing. I don't think that her escapades were done maliciously; rather I think the queen was just very juvenile in her desire to be loved by all those surrounding her, sometimes to the great danger of others. Don Juan's attachment to the queen was, I think, sincere, but in the game the queen played, she put him in serious danger, making me feel at once sorry for her and exasperated with her. She was at times a bit of a loose cannon, with her affections ranging far and wide.

The king was actually one of my favorite characters in this tale. He was an extremely kind and patient man and seemed to love the queen beyond all measure. When he discovered his wife's feelings for his brother, I felt that he did not act rashly or in anger, choosing instead to remain calm and handle his adversity with honor. Later sections of the book had me wondering what his true motives were towards his wife, and I think the author used this strategy of doubt to the height of its perfection. The reader is left wondering just what the king had done or not done, and forcing a speculation on him that may or may not be valid. It was clear to me that he loved his wife but other aspects of his character were more concealed. Did he or did he not engage in relations with a mistress? Did he attempt to stop his wife's dalliances at any cost? It's never clear what the king was capable of, for he only showed what he wanted to be seen. A very shrewd man he was, of that I am certain. There were many sides to his character and he remained malleable throughout the narrative.

Sofonisba's story was definitely the most touching of all the narrative threads in this book. Her fear and reproach for herself was hard to bear witness to. Though she struggled to remain strong, she was constantly filled with doubt and a suspicion that she could not shake. I feel that the author excelled at her creation, and witnessing her walk through her life with so much regret was like watching a woman live in slow motion. Unfortunately the things she left behind were never to be regained, a fact that saddened and sobered me, and although she gave so much care and attention to the queen, she was not able to do the same for herself. Hers was a story steeped in pain and heartache.

This was an excellent story told with a great lushness of language and brilliant intimacy. There was a great gravity to all the events that unfolded in the tale and a natural rhythm to the narrative. I think that those who enjoy historical fiction would greatly love this book, as would those who love stories that are filled with unexpected intrigue. I did so much enjoy this book and am excited to see more by this author. A great tale to get swept away with, highly recommended!

About Lynn

Lynn Cullen is the author of the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, a 2007 Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" selection, and an ALA Best Book of 2008. Her previous award-winning novels and picture books for children include the critically acclaimed Moi & Marie Antoinette, The Backyard Ghost, and The Mightiest Heart, for which she was named 1999 Georgia Author of the Year. An avid traveler and self-taught historian, she grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. This is her first novel for adults.

Visit Lynn Cullen at her website.

TLC Book Tours I read and reviewed this wonderful book as part of a TLC Book Tour, so a hearty thanks to them for providing it to me. Please continue to visit the other stops on the tour to find out what others have to say about the book!

Friday, April 2nd:  Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Suko said...

Beautiful review, Zibilee. You really enjoyed this book, and did a wonderful job reviewing it. I will add this to my TBR list very soon.

Aarti said...

Great review, Heather! I wasn't really interested in this book when I read previous reviews, but your detailed examination of the characters and their motivations makes me think it is one I might enjoy. I like that you don't quite know what the king is thinking or doing.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Interesting on how you focused on the king's character. I hadn't thought of him in that way. Thanks for the review.

(Oh, and I just realized that Aarti said similar things about the king in her comment above. You hit the nail on the head with the king, apparently!)

Ana S. said...

What Aarti and Amanda said! I wasn't all that interested in this one before (not sure why really, as I do love HF), but I surely am now.

Lynn Cullen said...

Thank you for your impressive review of my book. It's so gratifying for me to have a reader follow my story "between the lines." I tried to leave room for the reader to make their own decisions about the characters based on the characters' actions--I love how you took up that challenge.

My hat is off to you.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've been on the fence with this one, until I read your review. You have done an excellent job of digging down and really getting to the heart of things. It always makes me laugh when I see floozies even way back when...nothing changes!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved your review on this one Heather. I am very anxious to read it --especially now; thanks

trish said...

You write such lovely reviews! And you made this book sound like it would make a great book club pick! Thanks for being on this tour!

Darlene said...

Great review Heather! I enjoyed this novel as well.

Cath said...

This sounds like a great book, and I love your review of it. I love books that trust the reader, and this one sounds like it does, which is right up my alley.

-Connie @ Constance-Reader.com

Literary Feline said...

Thank you for such a great review! I don't often read historical fiction set around royalty, I confess, but this novel sounds like a good one. I like how you described the king and the author's subtlety.

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