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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
The world of art during the Italian Renaissance was primarily a man’s world. Women had a set place in society and that didn’t include the artist’s studio – at least, not a respectable woman. When young Celeste Gabriele’s life turns from riches to poverty and she must do menial labor to survive and care for her younger siblings, little does she know that a chance encounter with the nobleman and artist, Luciano Vicente, while escorting her young charge to his art lesson would lead to a successful career as an artist. Luciano recognized her talent immediately. But Celeste’s life was far from being her own and the clandestine art lessons lead to her dismissal, a confrontation with her drunken abusive father, and more misery until things start to turn around. But it’s still a steep hill to climb to be recognized as a successful and brilliant artist in a world dominated by men, as she must circumnavigate the difficult course set out for her through marriage, motherhood, and a family set on destroying everything she’s worked so hard to achieve.
Eleanor Chance has written a superb novel set in the golden days of the Italian Renaissance. Shades of Brilliance: An Italian Renaissance Novel (The Master’s Protégé Trilogy) is an intensely powerful look in the art world of a vibrant era in history. Like the art of this era, the novel is a work of art that matches the style and drama of the work of Irving Stone, Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, and many others. The author brings to life the power and the passion of the art world and the politics that moved it, protected it, and made it difficult for many, particularly women, to achieve success. The story primarily follows Celeste’s story, with the occasional background chapter from her mentor Luciano’s point of view. The setting, the era, and the characters are well developed, and the plot unfolds with vigor, pulling the reader into the story from the beginning with no release until the end. As an artist, art enthusiast, and historian, I was fascinated by this story and loved the author’s attention to detail that rivals my other favorite art historical fiction novelists (namely Stone, Chevalier, and Vreeland). I can’t wait for book 2 of the trilogy!