Author: Heloise West
Publisher: Manifold Press
Length: 292 Pages
Category: Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense
At a Glance: Heloise West delivers a romance along with plenty of action and danger before bringing Ardent to a lovely and satisfying finish.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.
As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.
But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.
Review: I’ll be the first to admit that what I know about the Italian Renaissance could fit in a thimble when compared to all there is to know about the hundreds of years over which it took place. I do know that the Renaissance was an era of cultural and artistic evolution, though, with masters such as Michaelangelo and da Vinci, among others, making their enduring mark on the art world and what we revere as the classics yet today, which is why I was so eager to take on Heloise West’s Ardent. It’s not only set in a time not often covered in historical romantic fiction but is set in the Italian art community of the 15th century, incorporating a forbidden love story with murder and intrigue, and doing so beautifully.
Of course, a historical romance featuring male lovers comes with its own built in conflict, and West presents those struggles in a touching and realistic way. For Morello and Benedetto, the fear of discovery is ever-present in every secret tryst, a danger that would result in cruel but usual punishment if caught. The book’s title is the ideal adjective to capture what the author built between the two men during their short time together in Torrenta, though the passion Morello feels for Benedetto is overshadowed by Benedetto’s own feelings for a lost love, Leo Guisculo, a man who had proved that he didn’t deserve Benedetto’s devotion, which adds a layer of unrequited love to the storyline.
When the plot shifts to Florence, a hotbed of criminal elements and the seat of the House of Medici, the intrigue builds around and in the artistic community, Leo’s untimely death, and the recipe Morello created to mimic crimson red—a color that was expensive to make and considered criminal in the art world to reproduce and then pass off as authentic. If Morello were ever caught selling his work with his version of the color, it would spell the end of his career as a painter. For the recipe to fall into the wrong hands would cause far-reaching repercussions—then, the threat of those repercussions become fully realized after a betrayal that leaves Morello reeling.
This novel has a full cast of characters that help bring Morello and Benedetto’s story to fruition—some friends and some foes—and I loved how well-rounded out each role player made the world within the story feel. There were plenty of period elements, without bogging down the narrative in historical minutiae, which served the setting well. The author’s description of the period clothing was enough to keep me in touch with a sense of time and place, and, of course, imagining the artwork that came from this movement made it easy to see how the sort of ardent passion that went into its creation would spill over into a romance between these two men.
One of the things I felt the author did so well was to pace the writing with the locale, almost as if the story was told in two parts, though I’m not sure whether it was intentional or not. Either way, it’s how I interpreted it, and it worked. The first part of the story in Torrenta is slower and sweeter where daily life itself was somewhat more idyllic; the next in Florence, where the thriving city introduced the action and intrigue, and the pace of the story picked up as the friction between Morello and Benedetto, and the events surrounding them, intensified. Everything came together well, and I appreciate that the story ended in a way that didn’t offer tidy resolutions to the romantic relationship that would have felt disingenuous, given the setting.
As someone who’s done her fair share of reading in the Historical Romance genre, I have to say that Ardent’s uniqueness in terms of its period is a great distinguishing factor. Heloise West kept me in suspense as to how she would resolve the conflict between her two men, and then, when she did, she didn’t leave out the action and danger before bringing things to a lovely and satisfying finish.
You can buy Ardent here: