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Flavia was born with a birthmark covering her face, in the shape of a bird in flight. Ashamed of the mark, her mother forces Flavia to hide her face behind a veil on the rare occasions she is allowed to be seen in public. But on the night before her younger sister's wedding, Flavia does something drastic, something that will draw her into a much wider and stranger world than she could have imagined: the convent of Santa Giuliana, just outside the city. There she meets Ghostanza, a courtesan turned widow, whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia, and whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched. Flavia becomes her ornatrix: her hairdresser and personal maid. But as white-lead paint rots the flesh below it, so the bustling city, and Santa Giuliana, is rotting below the shimmer of wealth and privilege. And Flavia is drawn into a world of desire and jealousy that has devastating consequences. Kate Howard's stunning debut vel is painted against the vivid historical landscape of sixteenth century Italy, tackling issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty. A beautiful, lyrical and visceral read.
Kate Howard has lived and worked in Italy for many years, but now lives in Brighton. She works at the University of Sussex and The Ornatrix is her first novel.