Flavia was born with a birthmark covering her face, in the shape of a bird in flight. A dyer's daughter, she grows up in a little house in the woods, far away from prying eyes. Ashamed of her mark, her mother makes Flavia 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 walls of Perugia.
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, 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.
Set in sixteenth century Italy and rich in description and character, Kate Howard's stunning debut novel is perfect for fans of Patrick Suskind's Perfume, Kate Mosse's The Taxidermist's Daughter and Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist. Painted against a vivid historical landscape with themes and characters relevant today, it tackles issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty and cannot fail to move.