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The Ornatrix
by Kate Howard


Overview -

In this exquisitely dark debut, Kate Howard delivers a stirring tale on the cost of beauty, packed with suspense and period detail worthy of Kate Mosse, Jessie Burton, and Tracy Chevalier.

Cursed from birth by the bird-shaped blemish across her face, Flavia spends much of her life hidden from the outside world.  Read more...


 
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    The Ornatrix (Paperback)
    Published: 2017-11-14
    Publisher: Overlook Press
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More About The Ornatrix by Kate Howard
 
 
 
Overview

In this exquisitely dark debut, Kate Howard delivers a stirring tale on the cost of beauty, packed with suspense and period detail worthy of Kate Mosse, Jessie Burton, and Tracy Chevalier.

Cursed from birth by the bird-shaped blemish across her face, Flavia spends much of her life hidden from the outside world. Lonely and alienated even from her family, she sabotages her sister's wedding in a fit of jealous rage and is exiled to serve in the convent of Santa Giuliana. Soon she finds that another exile dwells in the convent: a former Venetian courtesan named Ghostanza whose ostentatious appearance clashes with the otherwise austere convent and sparks gossip throughout the town. When Ghostanza claims Flavia as her ornatrix--her personal hairdresser and handmaid--Flavia is pulled into a world of glamor and concealment where admiration is everything and perfection is the ultimate, elusive goal. And she soon finds that with beauty in her grasp, in the form of the poisonous but stunning white lead cerussa, Flavia will do anything to leave her marked face behind.

Rich in description and character, Kate Howard's stunning novel is painted against a vivid historical landscape with themes and characters relevant today, tackling issues of belonging, female identity, and the perception of beauty.


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781468313826
  • ISBN-10: 1468313827
  • Publisher: Overlook Press
  • Publish Date: December 2016
  • Page Count: 304
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Historical - General

 
BookPage Reviews

Beauty and perfection in 16th-century Italy

In 16th-century Italy, where goodness and beauty are believed to go hand in hand, blemishes on the skin are seen as physical manifestations of the state of one’s soul. So when Flavia is born with a lurid birthmark across her face, the girl is viewed as an object of horror. After years of rejection, on the eve of her sister’s wedding Flavia snaps and does something so terrible that she is banished to a convent. 

Here her path crosses with Ghostanza, a woman whose otherworldly beauty inspires reverence in women and men alike. She claims Flavia as her ornatrix (a lady’s maid), schooling her in the art of Renaissance-era beauty regimens and cosmetics. However, Ghostanza’s tutelage goes much deeper, teaching Flavia that physical perfection carries a hefty price. 

By drawing sly parallels between Flavia’s world and our own, debut novelist Kate Howard demonstrates that unattainable beauty standards are hardly new. But Howard’s true genius lies in her skillful interweaving of themes of beauty, self-acceptance and artifice versus authenticity into an immersive story. The meticulous research and rich world-building place Howard alongside masters of the genre like Sarah Dunant and Tracy Chevalier (though Howard isn’t afraid to take readers down more ominous paths). If the idea of The Picture of Dorian Gray with feminist leanings gives you a thrill, then The Ornatrix is for you.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews