Editorial Review: Shades of Brilliance: An Italian Renaissance Novel (The Master's Protégé Trilogy Book 1), by Eleanor Chance
In Shades of Brilliance: An Italian Renaissance Novel (The Master's Protégé Trilogy Book 1), by Eleanor Chance, historical Venice is a city of art, culture, and luxury… but not for Celeste Gabriele and her siblings.
Their father’s dishonesty had him rejected from the family business and disowned from the family, so Celeste and her young siblings struggle every day to survive. This discord between the cultured, high class Venetians, and those struggling with poverty sets the stage for most of this novel. Shades of Brilliance takes readers through both classes, and uses social conflict as the background for an engaging story.
Celeste’s Aunt Portia wants nothing to do with her dishonest, disgraced brother, but takes pity on her struggling nieces and nephews. She gets Celeste a live-in position caring for a cute little boy. After her father’s downfall, this servant job is about as much as Celeste can hope for, offering her a safe place to sleep, enough food to eat, and a salary sent home to support her siblings.
Celeste enjoys watching her little charge’s art lessons, and practicing sketching when scrap paper comes her way. When the painting maestro, Luciano Vicente, happens to see her sketches, he’s stunned by her innate artistic talents. This discovery will change both of their lives, and lead the reader through a romantic, dramatic story.
If anyone can guide and train a new artist, it’s Luciano, a successful artist and master of a thriving, active workshop. But as a woman, and a lower-class woman at that, Celeste has no place in the Venetian art world. Much of the novel’s conflict comes from the discovery of Celeste’s amazing talents and the lack of a role of a talented young woman. How could she be happy as a servant after discovering this artistic talent? How could Luciano pass up the opportunity to teach such a promising artist? But how could a young, single woman with no means of support possibly spend years training as an artist? Celeste’s artistic talent presents not only opportunity, but very real risks and dangers.
This historical novel uses the social classes and customs of Venice to create a vibrant, layered setting. Much of the book’s conflict comes from competing social and family loyalties, which lets the reader support and care for all the characters at once, even when they’re at odds. (Ok, almost all the characters. Every family has a few annoying relatives, don’t they?)
Although the heart of the book is a love story, these are complicated relationships with many twists and challenges. Celeste and Luciano’s love is tested, again and again. In many romance novels, the plot could be easily solved by the two leads having a quick conversation with each other about their goofy misunderstanding. That’s not the case here. In Shades of Brilliance, each character believes they’re making the best choice or sometimes the only choice, even when that’s in conflict with their loved ones. Readers can really see how families, upbringing and experience affected their worldviews, making this feel realistic and nuanced, in a beautiful historical setting.
Shades of Brilliance is the first in a trilogy, and the ending makes it clear that the story of Celeste and Luciano, and their families, is far from over.