The Medici Seal

Written by Theresa Breslin
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Rachel Chetwynd-Stapylton (age 15)

Italy 1502. A young gypsy boy, fleeing from a brigand, is rescued by Leonardo da Vinci, and becomes part of his household. He calls himself ‘Matteo’ and gives a heavily-censored account of his life. The truth, however, is more sinister. The brigand, Sandino, knows that Matteo carries something which both the Medicis and Borgias would kill to have, and he will stop at nothing to get it.

The story is set against the turbulent background of warring city states. The infamous Pope Alexander VI, together with his bastard children, the murderous Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, is determined to extend the power of both his family and the Papacy. One by one, the cities of northern Italy fall into Borgia hands.

Cesare is Leonardo’s patron; he employs him as an artist, draughtsman and engineer, and his protection enables Leonardo to pursue his interest in human dissection. Matteo comes to love his new master and is increasingly torn by wanting to be open and knowing he must keep his secret. Then new challenges arise. The dell’Orte family once sheltered him, and now Sandino is on their track – because of him. They are in terrible danger and he’s got to help them. But how can his obligations towards the dell’Ortes be squared with his duty to Leonardo who has saved his life?

I enjoyed this. I certainly couldn’t put it down. The history is put across in an accessible way without either dumbing down or obscuring the human stories, particularly Matteo’s, which should be central to any novel. It is also about one boy’s quest for the truth about himself and to learn how to balance conflicting claims of duty, love and honour. Recommended for 12 plus.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Often I find books for junior readers slightly patronising, but I needn’t have worried, as The Medici Seal is beautifully written. The exciting plot means that it is a guaranteed page-turner, though the story line does meander slightly towards the middle, telling us more of Leonardo’s life and work, but at the expense of the otherwise action packed plot. Despite this, the book is an extremely competent mix of fact and fiction. From the word go, the reader is plunged into a whirlwind adventure story, full of deceit, secrecy and murder, whilst being able to really get a grasp of the thoroughly interesting and diverse work that Leonardo da Vinci did.

Rachel Chetwynd-Stapylton, Age 15