A perfect blend of fact and fiction
Before it became famous for its food and football, Italy was a land of rival city states. Naples in the south and Venice in the north were two of the most powerful of these self-ruling territories.
Often within a particular city state, power and control were in the hands of a single wealthy family. This family exercised its influence over everything to do with government and the daily lives of the citizens.
There was always great competition between the city states and this often escalated into violence and intrigue.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, two of the most powerful Italian families were the Borgias and the Medecis.
Cesare Borgia was a mighty soldier who tried to capture several of the central Italian city states in order to found his own kingdom. The Medecis were the rulers of Florence and they too were ruthless in building up their personal power.
Theresa Breslin's The Medeci Seal is set in Italy during the violent power struggles of the Borgias and the Medicis.
With a nod in the direction of the interest stirred up by the success of The Da Vinci Code, Breslin's book puts Leonardo da Vinci himself at the centre of the story and builds a breathtaking, solid adventure around him.
It's Italy in 1502. A young teenager called Matteo is on the run, fleeing from a brutal gang of outlaws. Matteo wants to keep his background a secret and knows he will have to lie to survive. He is determined that no one is going to find out who he is or the secret he is carrying with him.
By chance, he falls in with some friends of Leonardo de Vinci and is taken into the da Vinci household. He can't believe his luck. This should be the perfect place to hide from his pursuers.
The great Leonardo works for Cesare Borgia as his chief engineer, so the da Vinci family is currently travelling around the Borgia territories checking out the Borgia war preparations. There is betrayal, death and intrigue in the air.
Matteo watches, listens and learns as he travels with the da Vincis across Italy on Borgia business. No one is to be trusted.
But despite the undercurrent of danger, Leonardo goes about his work of painting magnificent frescoes, inventing machinery and dissecting corpses to learn about the human body.
The great man does not know that the boy he has befriended has a secret which both the Borgia and the Medici families would do anything to learn.
The Medeci Seal is an intriguing and authentic adventure set in a fascinating period of European history. But it is also the personal story of a boy with a secret and a fascinating look into the genius of the enigmatic Leonardo da Vinci.
Theresa Breslin is a clever enough storyteller to make sure that da Vinci facts and figures do not overwhelm the fictional elements of the book.
The Medeci Seal is a fast-moving historical thriller, not a textbook about remote historical figures, fascinating though they are. It is a big, chunky read that perfectly mixes absorbing historical fact and gripping storytelling.
The Medeci Seal
By Theresa Breslin
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 0 385 61020 3
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com