The Visconti ruled Milan for generations. Now the last Visconti duke is dying without a legitimate heir. The Sforza, another noble family related to the Visconti, are waiting to be invited to rule the city. The city fathers don't like it, but the other choice is annihilation when Sforza attacks the city.
The old duke, however, is not childless. He has a son, Niccolo, by a noble woman. The child is only a baby and the duke fears that his enemies will have the child killed, so he entrusts the boy to Archdeacon Onorio. Unbeknownst to the duke, Onorio is a secret Druid. The Druids made their home in Milan many years before. They worship their goddess, Bellsama, who later evolves into the Virgin Mary, in a temple constructed near the foundation of the cathedral that is being constructed.
Niccolo grows up wanting to be a sculpture, and succeeds in becoming an artist. His closest friend is Lorenzo, a young commoner, who is a paid killer for the Sforza. Lorenzo's sister Maria becomes the mistress of an aristocrat, but is then abandoned. Niccolo falls in love with Angelica, but it is another doomed relationship because she, too, is a commoner, and he is a noble. The lives of these characters growing up form the basis of the story.
I enjoyed the amount of historical detail in the book. I hadn't realized that the Druids had so much influence in Italy. The descriptions of their rites and their study of alchemy and magic are fascinating, but this much detail detracts from the plot. The story moves back and forth in time, which also tends to be confusing.
I recommend this book if you enjoy historical novels and have an interest in renaissance Italy. If you like lots of detail you'll enjoy this book, but if you're looking for a briskly moving plot, you'll be disappointed.
I reviewed this book for Net Galley.