Book Review: Leonardo’s Shadow by Christopher Grey

It looks like the last book review i posted was back in April, in the middle of the lockdown. While i have been reading, i have not been blogging as i have been busy baking (see my last post).

i decided to read this book because i like learning about life in medieval times and about a well-known historical figure like Leonardo da Vinci. It is also part of my research on how much literary leeway one can have when writing a story based around a historical person.

This story drew me in straight away with the mystery behind Giacomo’s, the main character, true identity. But it sort of slowed down for me after it was established that he has now become Leonardo’s servant and he wants to learn to paint but Leonardo would not teach him. There are lots of details about the life of a servant in those days, which is super for someone like me who soak up all these nuggets of information, but it did not move the story ahead as much as i would like it to.

It did, however, show wonderfully well what it is like for a lowly servant in the medieval times and how being well-known like Leonardo does not mean that life is all rosy. Life was so dependent on being liked by and supported by the people in power and wealth in that era.

Leonardo is portrayed as a rather stubborn man with his own ideas on who he can trust with what information, which i suppose is in line with what history says of the man. But with a teenage servant, who wants to know everything and who is torn between being loyal to the master who saved his life and finding out his true identity, things are made even harder. However, Leonardo seems to be quite adapt at getting his way. Leonardo’s softer side is also shown in his relationship with his housekeeper and Giacomo, as well as with the previous love interest of the Duke of Venice, Duke Ludovico.

The story really gets interesting for me when an outsider, an alchemist, offers Giacomo the possibility to find out who he truly is but it means going behind his master’s and the Duke’s backs to do something which they do not approve of. Giacomo decides to do things his way when Leonardo continues to be hard-headed, refusing to share any information with Giacomo. There is potential for lost of lives and encoring the wrath of the Duke and even more powerful people if things don’t go well!

There are other sub-plots which make it an interesting read; it is a story with quite a lot of depth and paints a complex picture of life for the different classes of people who lived then. i am not sure how much liberties were taken with regards to the character of Leonardo but i did a bit of digging and found that at least information such as the name of the Duke, and the dates match when Leonardo was said to have lived in Venice and painted the Last Supper there. i was surprised to learn (and Grey worked this wonderfully into the story) how much difficulty Leonardo had in preparing the wall of the church to be painted and how that ultimately affected longevity of the Last Supper.

i enjoyed reading this story and think it would suit anyone interested in historical fiction as well as in medieval life and in Leonardo da Vinic. It is also a good story to introduce such history to middle graders and above.

Do you like historical fiction? If yes, what are your favourite historical fiction writers or books?

syc