By the author of the acclaimed Passion Blue, a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2012 and “a rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion,” comes a fascinating companion novel.
Artistically brilliant, Giulia is blessed – or cursed – with a spirit’s gift: she can hear the mysterious singing of the colors she creates in the convent workshop of Maestra Humilità. It’s here that Giulia, forced into the convent against her will, has found unexpected happiness, and rekindled her passion to become a painter – an impossible dream for any woman in 15th century Italy.
But when a dying Humilità bequeaths Giulia her most prized possession – the secret formula for the luminously beautiful paint called Passion blue – Giulia realizes she’s in danger from those who have long coveted the famous color for themselves. Faced with the prospect of lifelong imprisonment in the convent, forever barred from painting as a punishment for keeping Humilita’s secret, Giulia is struck by a desperate idea: What if she disguises herself as a boy? Could she make her way to Venice and find work as an artist’s apprentice?
Along with the truth of who she is, Giulia carries more dangerous secrets: the exquisite voices of her paint colors and the formula for Humilità’s precious blue. And Venice, with its graceful gondolas and twisting canals, its gilded palazzi and masked balls, has secrets of its own. Trapped in her false identity in this dream-like place where reality and reflection are easily confused, where art and ambition, love and deception hover like dense fog, can Giulia find her way?
This compelling novel explores timeless themes of love and illusion, gender and identity as it asks the question: what does it mean to risk everything to follow your true passion?
Strauss delves deeper into the Renaissance studio, exploring the intricacies of paint-making and production while cleverly stressing themes of artistic integrity and the importance of pursuing one’s passion even in the face of seemingly insurmountable hurdles like conventional sex roles of the period. This combination of page-ripping plot and insight into the creative process is as rare and luminous as the color Strauss imagines.
- Kirkus –
While the paint is symbolic of Giulia’s blossoming inner life, her discoveries in the outer world while posing as a boy are equally interesting. Readers will identify with Giulia’s determination and doubt in equal measure in this story, which is classically romantic and lush as a painting of the time.
- Booklist –
A beautiful novel with a lovely voice and intricate details and emotions.
- Oh, For the Hook of a Book! –
A perfect mix of passion and romance.
- Bookish -
Color Song is a wonderful emotionally entrancing continuation of the adventure that was started in Passion Blue….[a] beautifully rendered tale of young woman unafraid to do what she must to create the destiny to which she aspires.
- WTF Are You Reading? -
Painting workshop of Maestra Humilità Moretti
Convent of Santa Marta, Padua, Italy
November, Anno Domini 1487
On the day the colors first sang to her, Giulia woke with a restless sense of anticipation, a breathless certainty that something was about to change–—although within the high brick walls of the convent of Santa Marta, change was rarer than roses in November.
The weather was raw and blustery, the sky thick with clouds. Midway through the morning, Giulia’s teacher, master painter Humilità Moretti, set up her easel in the courtyard and summoned Giulia from her duties in the workshop to assist.
From among the pots of paint that crowded the small table at her side, Humilità selected one whose tight-corked throat was sealed with wax. Only a single paint was ever closed this way. Without meaning to, Giulia drew in her breath. Humilità glanced at her, and for a moment their eyes held: an acknowledgment of secrets, of a shared and painful memory.
With a knife, Humilità broke the wax and levered out the cork. The wind snatched the cork as it popped free, whirling it to the ground and tumbling it across the flagstones, the vivid gleam of the paint it had protected flashing as it rolled: the color known as Passion blue–bluer than sapphires, bluer than oceans, the most precious of all the workshop’s paints. Giulia chased after it, catching it before it could fall into the drain at the courtyard’s center. As she picked it up, she thought she heard the sound of bells.
Returning to Humilità’s side, she watched her teacher measure Passion blue onto her palette. It glowed like a sun-struck jewel amid the duller smears of umber and bone black and verdigris, though there was no sun in the clouded sky to make it shine–a mysterious illusion of inner light that no other painter could duplicate, though many had tried. The formula for its making was known to Humilità alone, a secret she had guarded for more than twenty years.
Normally Giulia could lose herself in watching her teacher work, imagining herself into Humilità’s hand and Humilità’s eyes until it almost seemed it was she who held the brush. But today she was distracted by the malicious wind, the penetrating cold, the restlessness that prickled through her body and made it impossible to stand still. And the bells. She could still hear them, an insistent, chilly chiming that made her feel even colder, for it reminded her of ice, of sunlight shimmering on snow. She’d never heard such a sound at Santa Marta. Where could it be coming from?
At last Humilità set aside her brush and carried her painting indoors, leaving Giulia to clear the work table. Humilità had taken the pot of Passion blue as well, to lock up in her study; but a residue of the shimmering paint remained on the palette, seeming to draw to itself all the light of the cloudy day. Beneath the hissing of the wind the bells chimed on–fainter now, Giulia thought, as if whoever was ringing them had moved farther away.
In the warmth of the workshop, she returned the paint pots to their places. Still the bells teased at her ears, sounding exactly as they had in the courtyard, and it struck her suddenly that this should not be. Inside, surely, they should be fainter, or clearer–but not the same.
The chiming followed her as she set Humilità’s used brushes in a jar of turpentine to soak, then carried the palette over to a table to clean it. Pausing, she closed her eyes, concentrating on the slippery fall of notes. She hadn’t realized quite how lovely they were–and, somehow, less like bells than she’d first thought, almost unearthly in their silvery cadences. They sound like….She groped for comparisons. A cascade of stars. A rain of crystal.
She opened her eyes. On the palette, the smear of Passion blue gleamed, as if the candles burning on the table favored it above the other colors. It drew Giulia’s gaze like a tether. She let her vision blur, let her eyes fill up with blue, with swirling azure currents and glinting sapphire radiance. The bell-music deepened, reaching into her, resonating inside her head.
It’s the paint that’s singing. The thought rolled up from indigo depths. It’s the voice of Passion blue.
Something flashed through Giulia’s body, a bolt of cobalt light. The palette snapped back into focus. The blue was just a smear of paint again. But she could still hear the bells, chiming, chiming;, and her heart, suddenly, was pounding with dread–at the absurd, no, the mad thought that had felt utterly true in the instant it came to her. True in a way impossible things should never be.
She snatched up a scraper and dragged it hard across the palette’s wooden surface. The soft oil paints came up easily, the colors smearing into mud. Even the jewel essence of Passion blue could not survive such mingling. Again and again she scraped, until the palette was clean.
The bells were silent now. She could hear only the ordinary noise of the artists at their labor. But around her, the familiar landscape of the workshop had grown strange, as if she were looking through someone else’s eyes. She was cold, as cold as she’d been in the wind-chilled courtyard.
Am I going mad? She put her hand to her throat, thinking of the talisman she’d worn all summer and then destroyed, of the celestial spirit that had been imprisoned inside it. Am I being punished for the sin of putting my trust in magic?
No. They were just bells. Real bells, rung by real hands. I’ll never hear them again.
But within herself, she knew differently. And the next morning, when Humilità uncorked the pot of Passion blue and the crystal chiming rose, Giulia understood that something inside her had irrevocably changed. She would never be the same.
Want more? Download Chapters 2 and 3.