Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a singleminded passion for the art of physick, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella’s own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues–beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases. 

After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him–a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.

As a lover of historical fiction, I was excited to find a book set in the Renaissance that included so many different countries. I was looking forward to seeing the vast differences in cultures throughout Europe during this time period and the experience of travel, particularly for a woman accompanied only by servants. The cultures were not filled out as much as I would have hoped, but the travel was fairly detailed. They experienced enough danger and adventure to make it believable and keep the story alive.

The story was very slow to get going and I found it difficult to keep reading. The writing was choppy, descriptions were long and at times tedious and I found it hard to believe some of the situations the characters found themselves in. There were parts of the story that I’m not sure were very accurate for the time period. However, I found the inserted notes on maladies and their ‘cures’ interesting. Looking at medicine through the eyes of a sixteenth-century doctor gave me a better idea of what life would have been like for the physically and mentally ill—it’s not a pretty picture.

Eventually the book became easier to read and by the end I was starting to enjoy it. That point came too late for me and I cannot see myself reading it again.

I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

I received this book free from Hachette Book Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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