The Ruby Ring
Author: Diane Haegar
Narrator: Elizabeth Wiley
Run Time: 13 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher: Audible, Inc.
Review copy provided by Audible.com via Audiobook Jukebox
Rome, 1520. The Eternal City is in mourning. Raphael Sanzio, beloved painter and national hero, has died suddenly at the height of his fame. His body lies in state at the splendid marble Pantheon. At the nearby convent of Sant’Apollonia, a young woman comes to the Mother Superior, seeking refuge. She is Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter from a humble neighborhood on the Tiber, now an outcast from Roman society, persecuted by powerful enemies within the Vatican. Margherita was Raphael’s beloved and appeared as the Madonna in many of his paintings. Theirs was a love for the ages. But now that Raphael is gone, the convent is her only hope of finding an honest and peaceful life.
The Mother Superior agrees to admit Margherita to their order. But first, she must give up the ruby ring she wears on her left hand, the ring she had worn in Raphael’s scandalous nude “engagement portrait.” The ring has a storied past, and it must be returned to the Church or Margherita will be cast out into the streets. Behind the quiet walls of the convent, Margherita makes her decision . . . and remembers her life with Raphael—and the love and torment—embodied in that one precious jewel.
So prior to listening to the Ruby Ring, i knew very little about Raphael – as a man and as an artist – in fact, most of my knowledge steams from what I looked up when the original Teenage Mutant ninja turtles were on when I was a kid – because the 4 of them were all famous painters. But other than that, I was never really interested in artists or reading about them. But there was something about the description of The Ruby Ring that caught my eye. Possibly the idea that he had that forbidden but ultimately love – or that he went against what society believes to have this woman in his life.
I loved the story that developed between Margherita and Raphael – there were something pure about it. Especially the fact that she didn’t just fall into his arms – she had some mettle in her, and wasn’t going to be tricked into just sleeping with him and being ruined. A lot of the themes in this, reminded me of the similar story told in Course of Honour (Lindsey Davis) which followed the love story of Emperor Vespasian and the former slave, Caenis. I laughed with the characters in parts, and there definately wasn’t a dry eye in my car as I was driving around totally at random, trying to listen to the last 10 minutes of the book because I had to know what happened. My only disappointment was that we knew what happened to Raphael, but Margherita’s story just ends without a resolution – how long did she live? did she live out her days in the convent?
I have to admit that while listening to this, I have to wonder how the Catholic Church has remained the fixture that it has over the years. Pope Leo X (Pope from 1513 to 1521) seemed pretty much a corrupt individual, second only to Cardinal Bibbizena who was integral to the suffering between Raphael and Margherita. The book also made me think about how many celebrities etc are treated not as people, but as the stuff that they produce and that as a society we often forget that. Until something happens (they do something, something is done to them) and then that perspective completely changes, for a brief period of time. Then everything is back to normal.
Whether this story is the true story of Raphael’s love for a woman, or a fictional account we will never know – there is a lot of debate over who Margherita Luti was, and what brought about Raphael’s death. The romantic in me, wants to believe this story – that he went to his grave with the passion of love for her driving him on. And I can only hope, also as a romantic, that they were together again in death when she died.
I’m conflicted on the narration – while I think that the narrator did a good job of Margherita and Raphael’s voices, many of the other ones (Pope Leo for example) left a lot to be desired. It seemed as though she was really straining to accentuate some of them, and making them sound not suited in general. I think this book would have been a good one where a female narrator would have worked predominantly, but using a male for some key parts (similar to other duel narrations like Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series).
The quality of the audiobook was good for the most part. There were a few places where it got very quiet, so I had to turn up the volume, and then it would jump back to normal – but it wasn’t enough to be distracting. More of a minor irritation. I know that I will be looking for more books produced by Audible in the future – but whether I listen to anymore by the narrator is uncertain. 3.5 stars for the book, but only 2.5 for the narration – giving it 3 stars overall.