Review: Ardent by Heloise West

In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.

As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.

But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.

Welllll this is disappointing. This book had so many things working in its favor from the setting to the murder mystery to the art, but somehow it never realized its potential.

Morello and Benedetto tell this story in alternating POVs and I wanted to like them. I tried to like them. But both of them at one point or another had me scratching my head and their characterizations are still muzzy to me. 

They meet in Torrenta and Morello falls in love with Bennedetto on sight. Sometimes the instalove thing can work for me if I can see what draws them together and feel their connection, but this is more of a bizarre love triangle. And when I say bizarre I mean bizarre because the third wheel in this triangle is dead!

How can you even compete against a dead guy? Wouldn't you just shoot for friends and maybe, possibly hope for something more in the future?

Answer: no. Go big or go home. Evidently. 

Upon Leo's death a few months later Morello is called upon to take his place as the master painter of his studio in Florence.

Leo and Benedetto were lovers until Benedetto, I guess, aged out? Leo liked his liaisons young and nubile but not pedophilia young. They were still friendly because they work together and Benedetto grieves his death and, it seems, Benedetto is still holding a torch for Leo. I'm not sure if Morello is just willing to take whatever Benedetto will give him or if he's blind to it but he pursues him with gusto, foolishly so in my opinion.

Benedetto gives lip service to having feels for Morello but... I was never convinced of the veracity of his purported feels; it was more of the telling versus showing variety. I never did understand Morello's level of devotion. I need more than physical attraction to convince me of the possibility of longevity in a relationship and I came up empty when looking for more. Maybe Morello just likes the chase? I don't know but I don't get it.

The mystery surrounding Leo's death ties some things together and parts of it I thought were well crafted while others I found uninspired. I was also baffled by Morello's behavior once he finds out a key piece of information. I think it was supposed to highlight his devotion but, again, I did not get it.

I believe West was going for a sense of atmosphere akin to Francis Mayes perhaps. However, the focus on the details actually wound up working against the narrative. Instead of focusing on character and relationship development or the suspense plotline the focus drifted to details of Renaissance Florence and  tedium causing the whole thing to sort of collapsed in on itself. If one of the main plotlines had been strong this would've been a more satisfying read, but I found both lackluster.

I would try something else by West since it's clear to me she loves all things Italian as do I, but I wouldn't recommend this.

A review copy was provided.

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