The Ornatrix

The Ornatrix

by Kate Howard


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“Howard's debut proves to be a complicated, intricate story of beauty, obsession, revenge and what it means to be seen—and therefore to be known.” —Shelf Awareness

Debut novelist Kate Howard delivers a stirring tale on the cost of beauty, packed with suspense and period detail worthy of Kate Mosse, Jessie Burton, and Tracy Chevalier.

In this Vogue UK summer reading pick, Flavia spends much of her life hidden from the outside world to conceal the birthmark that stains her face. But when her ashamed mother expels her from their home, Flavia travels into the city and meets Ghostanza, a Venetian courtesan living in the Santa Giuliana convent, who claims Flavia as her ornatrix, her personal hairdresser and handmaid.

As an ornatrix, Flavia is pulled into a world of glamor and concealment. And with beauty finally in her grasp in the form of the poisonous but stunning white lead cerussa she applies to Ghostanza, Flavia will do anything to leave her marked face behind.

Rich in description and character, Kate Howard's stunning novel is painted against a vivid historical landscape with themes and characters relevant today. Tackling issues of belonging, female identity, and the perception of beauty, Howard "strips away the gilded facades of Renaissance Italy to reveal the sordid underside of the quest for physical beauty" (Patricia Bracewell, author of the Emma of Normandy Trilogy).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781468315677
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Publication date: 11/21/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Kate Howard

received her PhD in English Literature from the
University of Kent. Her extensive travels throughout Italy, especially the
Umbria region, inspired her fiction. The
Ornatrix is her debut novel.

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The Ornatrix: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
For those who follow me on my blog or social media, they know that I love Italian Historical Fiction. It is my favorite genre. But when it is on the dark side, with plenty of intrigue and grit, there can be no better story. I loved every element, every page, and every word of this well-plotted book. First, there is an appealing protagonist who struggles to gain acceptance because of a large birthmark on her face. It ostracizes her from society. She lives in a convent and encounters the protagonist, a Venetian courtesan named Ghostanza who is obsessed with beauty and her secret recipe for cosmetics where the ingredients are sent to her via an apothecary in Venice. Flavia becomes Ghostanza's Ornatrix (maker of cosmetics). Of course, the make-up is mostly made of lead as was typical of the time, and Flavia soon notices how it ravages the face of her benefactor. Despite the risks, Flavia yearns to use the cosmetic on herself to hide her birthmark. This novel is a tale about the lengths and risks a woman will take order to be beautiful. I especially enjoyed the start of each new chapter or section that highlighted a quote or recipe about an old beauty trick or cosmetic. This fictional story taught me much about the beauty procedures of the past - hair styles, depilatory processes, plucking of hair above the forehead, face creams, lotions, and more including the cerussa paste for the face. Beauty, murder, intrigue, vengeance, and a cast of fascinating and unpredictable characters along with a scintillating plot made this one of my favorite reads of 2016!