Shades of Brilliance

An Italian Renaissance Novel (The Master's Protégé Trilogy)

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
414 Pages
Reviewed on 02/22/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

The world of art during the Italian Renaissance was primarily a man’s world. Women had a set place in society and that didn’t include the artist’s studio – at least, not a respectable woman. When young Celeste Gabriele’s life turns from riches to poverty and she must do menial labor to survive and care for her younger siblings, little does she know that a chance encounter with the nobleman and artist, Luciano Vicente, while escorting her young charge to his art lesson would lead to a successful career as an artist. Luciano recognized her talent immediately. But Celeste’s life was far from being her own and the clandestine art lessons lead to her dismissal, a confrontation with her drunken abusive father, and more misery until things start to turn around. But it’s still a steep hill to climb to be recognized as a successful and brilliant artist in a world dominated by men, as she must circumnavigate the difficult course set out for her through marriage, motherhood, and a family set on destroying everything she’s worked so hard to achieve.

Eleanor Chance has written a superb novel set in the golden days of the Italian Renaissance. Shades of Brilliance: An Italian Renaissance Novel (The Master’s Protégé Trilogy) is an intensely powerful look in the art world of a vibrant era in history. Like the art of this era, the novel is a work of art that matches the style and drama of the work of Irving Stone, Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, and many others. The author brings to life the power and the passion of the art world and the politics that moved it, protected it, and made it difficult for many, particularly women, to achieve success. The story primarily follows Celeste’s story, with the occasional background chapter from her mentor Luciano’s point of view. The setting, the era, and the characters are well developed, and the plot unfolds with vigor, pulling the reader into the story from the beginning with no release until the end. As an artist, art enthusiast, and historian, I was fascinated by this story and loved the author’s attention to detail that rivals my other favorite art historical fiction novelists (namely Stone, Chevalier, and Vreeland). I can’t wait for book 2 of the trilogy!

Vincent Dublado

It is good to discover a new book when you realize that it is going to be a series, especially when the story sticks in your memory. Such is the case of Shades of Brilliance by Eleanor Chance. This first installment in her Master’s Trilogy romance series begins with the protagonist as an underdog. Somewhere in the backdrop of Renaissance Italy, Celeste Gabriele bears the weight of losing a mother and having a missing drunken father by taking care of her younger siblings. She expects nothing much from her Aunt Portia, who does not care much for her starving nieces and nephews. Portia takes Celeste to work as a nanny for Signora Maria Foscari’s seven-year-old son, Federigo, who was taking art lessons under the tutelage of Maestro Luciano Vicente. As fate would have it, the maestro accidentally stumbles upon a sketch work by Celeste and finds a raw talent in her. The maestro then promises to protect Celeste and train her to hone her artistic skills in secret.

Shades of Brilliance with its meticulous Renaissance backdrop is a period romance, a tale with all the trimmings of aristocracy, artistic pursuits, and the perilous rags to riches journey of a young woman who wants nothing more than to provide for her young brothers and sisters. But Eleanor Chance has written something else much larger and darker: it is a disturbing illustration of the timeless existence of domestic abuse and social stratification. Shades of Brilliance is a transfixing novel because of Chance’s feel for landscape, character, and plot. You enter into Celeste’s world with that same heightened awareness of the delicate divide between the social classes, and you end your reading with a strong sense of empathy.

Rabia Tanveer

Shades of Brilliance: An Italian Renaissance Novel is the first in The Master's Protégé Trilogy by Eleanor Chance. Celeste Gabriele's life catapulted out of her control when her drunk of a father went missing. With her mother already dead, the responsibility of her younger siblings fell on her shoulders. Desperate and on the verge of starving, she heaved a sigh of relief when she was offered the position of a nanny to a boy named Federigo. She had no idea that this position would introduce her to Luciano Vicente, a man who would show her that her penchant for art had a lot more potential than she ever thought possible. Baffled and ignited by passion, she accepted his invitation to become his disciple. But they had to keep things secret if Celeste wanted to keep her job. What would happen if they were ever found out? Was she ever going to embrace her art or would society take it all away from her?

I love a novel with a solid plot and a protagonist that drives the story forward. Celeste was a simple yet a strong-headed woman. Her passion for painting, her need to protect her siblings, and her ambition to become better was very well-portrayed in the story. I loved how driven she was and how Eleanor Chance gave her all the right characteristics to make her stand out. For me, she will always be among those characters that added essence to the story and took it another level. She drove the plot forward, her maturity with her art became a focal point of the story and allowed me to connect with her on a deeper level. I wanted to see her triumphs, I wanted her to become a master painter and show society that she did not need to follow societal norms to be happy. She could make her own fate and build her future. Reading Shades of Brilliance was a joy and I cannot wait for the next novel in the series. Rich in detail and brilliantly executed!