Book Review: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen (3/5). Talk about a downer ending.

14 Aug

I love Renaissance Europe and I love Spain. So when my 2013 book calendar recommended The Creation of Eve, they had me right away. I found it in the bargain books at B&N a while ago so it’s been sitting on my shelf, waiting. With my push to finish the When Are You Reading? Challenge, I jumped it to the beginning of the line. And so, finally, here I go!

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

Sofi is a rarity of her time; a woman practicing painting and working to become a maestra, master painter. She’s studying under the best, Michelangelo. On the day before she is to return from Rome to her hometown, she has an intimate moment with Tiberio, the other student studying with her. Sofi is never to return to Rome, instead going to Spain where she joins the court of Felipe II and his new French bride, Queen Elisabeth. She quickly becomes a favorite of the queen and watches the girl become a woman and struggle to unite France and Spain while fulfilling her own desires.

I had such high expectations for this book, and that might be why I’m so disappointed in it. I felt like nothing happened to the main character. She had so much potential to make history as a wonderful female painter, but instead had to go to Spain. While there, the focus of the story switched completely to Elisabeth and the other Spanish royals around her, making Sofi a secondary character. The only thing going for her was her potential romance with Tiberio coming back into play, but that was never to be. She had a blossoming romance with a doctor that turned into nothing. I loved the writing, the history, and the characters, but I wanted something more to happen!

I was glad to hear that Sofi is based off of a real person. It’s incredible that a woman in that time could study painting with a maestro like Michelangelo. I understood the passivity which she practiced in the court, all aiming not to upset the queen, but it bothered me so much at the same time. It felt like she never fit in; being Italian in Spain to a French queen but in the years she was in service, she never seemed to make a friend. This kind of bugged me because I think characters should have friends. If they’re likable, other characters will like them and then the reader can like them, right? Francesca was one of my favorite characters. She reminded me of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, another favorite character.

I didn’t like Don Carlo, Don Juan, and Don Alessandro. I would confuse the three of them a lot in the first half of the book and I still don’t see the point of Don Alessandro. The muddled the plot for me and only at the end did I figure out which of them Queen Elisabeth was attracted to. The courtly love obscured that too much for my taste.

Despite being a passive character, Sofi was still my favorite character in the book. She was curious and brave when she needed to be and always found a way to help those around her who needed helping. She was very giving, which I imagine would be hard to be for so long in such a demanding court. I wish there had been more for Sofi in this book because she didn’t have much besides loss to herself. She could have dealt with some love or drama. Instead, that was reserved for the queen.

Lynn Cullen Image via tlcbooktours.com

Lynn Cullen
Image via tlcbooktours.com

Because of the historical setting, it was hard for me to relate to any of the characters on a personal level. Cullen did a wonderful job of writing 1560s Spain; I absolutely loved it. But the problems these characters had were very removed from modern life. It made it a little difficult to root for the characters. The one character I related to most would have to be Elisabeth. I related to how lost she felt in life; trying to survive and put on a face while being tugged in a million different directions. I think we’ve all felt like that sometime.

The very beginning of the book was my favorite. I liked Sofi in her element, painting with Michelangelo and being in love with Tiberio. I felt like there was a lot going for her then and that the story could be about her success and setback toward being a maestra. Instead, the story changed drastically once she left Rome.

The ending of this book was my least favorite. I felt like there wasn’t much closure to a very long plot and that a lot of the characters were left with more to give. I understand that Cullen was trying to keep close to history, but for me, it was too hard to process. I felt the relationship with Don Juan was too out of left field, Francesca’s change in loyalty was too quick, and that the king’s motivation for controlling his wife was weak. I wish the book had been longer so these changes could have happened more naturally.

Sofi’s story is one of devotion. Throughout, she remains devoted to Tiberio and the idea of having a life with him, as distant as it may seem. Even when his sexuality is questioned publicly, she wants to be with him. Sofi remains devoted to the Queen even when she is foolish or does things the king should know about. Sofi wants to please them all and she is devoted to the queen above all. It’s very similar to the way Francesca is devoted to her, which is touching. It implies that Francesca, despite speaking ‘peasant’s Italian,’ is a parental figure in Sofi’s life.

I’m still a bit confused by the title of this book. Sofi mentions that there is a part of the Sistine Chapel fresco called ‘The Creation of Eve.’ Here’s what it looks like.

Image via studybible.com

Image via studybible.com

I’m not sure if this helps clarify anything. I get that Eve looks to be almost asking God for something: begging. Is this supposed to be Sofi, begging for her own life and freedom? Or is it Elisabeth, trying to ask for something wile Adam (Felipe) is sleeping? If anyone as any ideas, please let me know. I”m still scratching my head.

Writer’s Takeaway: I don’t think the diary style worked well in this book. There was so much detailed dialogue that I didn’t think of it as a diary until I’d get to the beginning of a section that was dated and Sofi would remark on how long it had been since she’d last written. I think dated entries would have been fine without the guise of a diary; especially when Sofi would recount conversations that happened months ago. I kept a diary as a youngster and at most, I might include a four line conversation; never pages of talk about clothing.

I loved the setting, writing, and characters, but I felt the plot of this one was greatly lacking. Three out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled 1500-1599 for my When Are You Reading? Challenge and Foreign Country: Spain for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen | She Reads Novels
The Creation of Eve and an Update! | The Blog of Litwits

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