Sacred Hearts, By Sarah Dunant

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The realities of convent life are recorded in the final volume of Sarah Dunant's richly evoked Renaissance trilogy. Set in one of Ferrara's more exclusive nunneries, the novel recounts the fate of Serafina, a reluctant sixteen-year-old novice shut away after an ill-advised flirtation with her music tutor.

Dunant proves a conscientious chronicler of Counter-Reformation politics and pieties, doing her best to illuminate the preoccupations of another age. Bodice-ripping is in less bountiful supply than in the author's previous fiction - the story's central relationship rests between Serafina and Zuana, a sister superior with a secular past.