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A Golden Web is a Delightful and Intriguing Historical Novel for Teens

May 11, 2010

A Golden Web by Barbara Quick
published by HarperTeen April 6, 2010

Alessandra Giliani has an unusually gifted mind and boundless curiosity about the natural world. Nothing makes her happier than being free to roam the woods around her father’s estate, with her brother Nicco, unraveling the secrets of nature. In 14th century Italy, the medieval world is on the cusp of the Renaissance, an era of fertile scientific curiosity. And Alessandra is the daughter of  a stationer, a bookmaker, who holds a unique and important role a century before the invention of the printing press. He visits the great libraries of Europe, borrowing books that will be painstakingly copied and treasured for many lifetimes. With access to books, and with Nicco to help her explore the life all around her, Alessandra’s brilliance flourishes, and she dreams of studying medicine.

However, narrow societal expectations and superstitions limit her possibilities for the future. As a woman, she must either become a nun or marry to a man her father chooses. And women who show uncanny knowledge and skill are often burned at the stake. Kept confined to her room by her stepmother, who resents her and is determined to protect her virtue until she can arrange a profitable marriage, Alessandra devises a plan to escape and pursue her dream.

Barbara Quick lovingly recreated this character based on an intriguing historical figure about whom very little is known. Alessandra’s character is richly developed. I loved experiencing life in 14th century Italy through her eyes, feeling her quick mind, her longing, and her passions. I was also drawn in by the wealth of interesting historical details. We see different paths of knowledge converge: the teachings of ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle and Galen, the work of Arab scholars, and the traditional wisdom of female healers, and we see Alessandra make an exciting discovery of her own.

This novel also offers fascinating descriptions of how medieval illuminations were created. And there is fodder for interesting discussions of the evolving roles of women during history, and the ways men have maintained intellectual and moral control in society.

Readers will also enjoy the Alessandra’s romance, a relationship in which she doesn’t relinquish her strength and independence. I wish her love interest, and their relationship, had been developed more fully. When we reached that point, it felt as if there were a rush to get to the story’s resolution. And the story’s closing — though it had reached a logical ending point — felt somewhat abrupt.

Despite these minor disappointments, I thoroughly enjoyed this vibrant historical novel. Alessandra’s well developed character — passionate, curious, brave, and vulnerable — is what really made it shine. Both adults and teens will enjoy this book, which will especially appeal to teenagers. And the historical and geographic detail in this story is satisfying — and enough to pique a reader’s interest in further reading and discussion — without weighing down the flow of the story.

About the Cover: It is becoming increasingly rare to find original artwork on book covers. I love seeing the front of a novel illustrated with a gorgeous original painting, and the cover of A Golden Web is beautiful. Visit the author’s blog to read more about the cover art, and about the beautiful young woman whose face is behind the painting.

Many thanks to Barbara Quick and to HarperTeen for sending me a copy of this book for review.

See also: Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick

Read More Reviews: Rebecca’s Book Blog; Book Illuminations; Enchanted by Josephine


7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 12:59 am

    I really love historical fiction, but haven’t read European medieval historical fiction as much recently as I used to. This sounds like a great book, though, and one that would be right up my alley! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. May 12, 2010 7:21 pm

    It sounds right up my alley too! I find the medieval period fascinating and have been iin the mood for books set there.

  3. May 13, 2010 3:09 am

    Oh, that one sounds good. I may need to find it. :o)

  4. May 13, 2010 4:05 pm

    What a beautifully written and gratifying review! I’m going to post it right now on my HarperCollins microsite…

    In the meantime, I hope you understand what an essential and generous part you’re playing–as a sensitive reader and unpaid literary critic–in the process of getting the word out about books that (I hope!) deserve to be read and might otherwise sink beneath the waves.

    The publishing world today operates on a business model that only supports its proven money-makers. Bloggers like yourself are buoying up the love and allure of literature that have always inspired readers and writers, too. Psychically speaking, you’re keeping us afloat. Thank you!

  5. May 14, 2010 9:32 pm

    I shall add this one to my TBR – for after Vivaldi’s Virgins.

    What a lovely comment from the author – really nice when they take the time to comment on a review.

    • May 14, 2010 10:34 pm

      I agree! It’s exciting when an author stops by and comments and appreciates our efforts. 😉 It doesn’t happen all that often, but I occasionally get GREAT comments or e-mails from authors. It makes this book blogging thing seem more like a dialogue, which I find exciting.


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