The Orphan of Florence

Written by Jeanne Kalogridis
Review by Elicia Parkinson

It is November 1478, only seven months after the Pazzi conspiracy which took the life of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s brother, Giuliano, in a brutal attempt to gain control of the Florentine government. Giuliana, who was raised in Florence’s Hospital of the Innocents, has been turned out onto the streets by the nuns. She is with young Tommaso, and together the two have managed to survive to the best of their ability by thieving. Giuliana has disguised herself as a boy, calling herself Giuliano, and the two have worked out a system of picking pockets that usually works. But one evening they prey on the kindness of the wrong person, and both of their lives are irreversibly changed forever.

The man whose pocket they tried to pick has separated them and taken Giulia into his home, convincing her to become his apprentice instead of being sent to jail as he might have otherwise. The apprenticeship is questionable, however, as the man’s identity is unknown to her, but the offer is so generous she cannot turn it down. Though only known to her as the Magician of Florence, Giulia accepts his offer, through him learning ritual magic, astrology, and how to make powerful talismans. The mystery surrounding the Magician deepens with time, however, and soon Giulia is on her own again, trapped within a plot thicker than anything she might ever have imagined.

This is an engrossing read with detailed descriptions of the art and architecture of 15th-century Florence. Kalogridis brings modern readers into a world of intrigue and possible magic without losing them in the finer details of mysticism or Florentine politics. Recommended for anyone with an interest in Florentine history, particularly surrounding the Medicis, but be willing to suspend some level of disbelief.