“Thrilling…captivating… a first rate magical adventure!”
“is told beautifully… one that I didn’t want to put down… a brilliant magical adventure… that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Another great Belinda Murrell book!”
Belinda’s “books are warm and rich with appealing characters and entrancing storylines….The Golden Tower reminded me of some of Emily Rodda’s best rite of passage fantasy novels.”
“A talking cat, flying horses, an enchanted cave and a massive dog called Lupo… there’s so many magical characters in this book. It was over too soon.”
In her wildest dreams, Sophie never thought she might be kidnapped by a cat and taken to a world of flying horses and wonder – but also magic, mystery and danger!
Transported to the land of Tuscia, Sophie accidentally saves the daughter of a wealthy family and is swept along on their journey to the Golden Tower.
Now she is the only one standing between sisters Isabella and Bia and the terrible fate their stepmother has planned.
And although Sophie doesn’t think she is brave enough, with the help of a talking cat, a stableboy and some very tiny mischief makers, she might be able to save the day.
Four years ago, while wandering the streets of Trastavere, in Rome with my family, we stumbled upon an alleyway called Vicolo di Mazzamurelli. We photographed it, joking that it was named after us – the Murrell family. Later I discovered the alley was named for the neighbouring palazzo that had been home to a group of particularly noisy and mischievous Italian goblins called mazzamurelli, similar to Irish leprechauns or Scottish brownies. This book draws upon this folklore, as well as Italian fairy tales such as Il Gatto Mammone, the demon cat, and Petrosinella and Bella Venezia, where young girls are locked in towers and rather than being rescued by a charming prince, must use their wits to escape.
While this story is a fantasy, with elements of magic, mythological creatures and time travel, it is also firmly rooted in the history, architecture, and culture of Renaissance Italy, which I adore. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, daughters of noble families were rigorously educated in the humanist tradition, learning together with their brothers about philosophy, poetry, Latin, Greek, literature, mathematics, science, art, music, diplomacy, and sword fighting. My story is inspired by some of these intelligent, bold and courageous Italian women particularly Caterina Sforza, Isabella d’Este, and Lucretia Borgia, as well as Matilda of Tuscany, Laura Cereta, Veronica Gambara, Vittoria Colonna, Giulia Farnese, and Margherita Sforza.
Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forli, nicknamed the “tigress”, was betrothed at 10, married at 14, and became a skilled alchemist, medic, hunter, fencer, diplomat, daring military strategist, and fierce warrior. Over many years, she experimented to produce hundreds of recipes for medicines, cosmetics and poisons. She is famous for storming and winning the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, leading her troops when she was only twenty-one years old, and while seven months pregnant. She rode on horseback across the Tiber, wearing a tan satin dress, a plumed velvet hat and carrying a sword.
Isabella d’Este, the Marchioness of Mantua, was engaged at six, married at 15, and known for her keen intelligence, diplomatic skills, humanitarian values and musical ability. She is famous for her studiolo, where she collected curiosities and artworks from around the world. When she was eight months pregnant her husband was captured and taken prisoner by the invading Venetians. She took command of the army, fought off the invaders, and eventually secured his release.
Lucretia Borgia was betrothed at 11, married at 13, and was renowned for her beauty and intelligence, being fluent in several languages, playing the lute and violin, and becoming an able politician. The Borgias were famous for murdering their political opponents, using a complex potion called La Canterella. Lucretia was rumoured to wear a ring with a hollow chamber, which she used to poison the drinks of her enemies.
I also drew on the history of de’ Medici family of Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was the grandson of Caterina Sforza. He had several children including Bia and her half-sister Isabella, the principessa or princess of Tuscany, who lived with their grandmother at a villa in the country. Lovely Bia was happy, talkative and adored by her father and grandmother but died from a virulent fever aged five. She is immortalised in a beautiful portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Isabella was reputed to be impulsive, unusually independent, high spirited, a talented musician and a great beauty, with red hair like her sister. She was betrothed at 11, married at 16 and developed an aptitude for politics, becoming the first lady of Florence. Isabella also died young, reputedly murdered by her husband.
Lastly, I was fascinated by the story of 16-year-old Margherita Marsili, an intelligent and exuberant noble girl from Siena, known as the ‘bella rossellana’, because of her flaming red hair and sea-coloured eyes. She was abducted from her family’s hunting tower, with her younger brothers, by Barbery pirates in 1543 and taken to the Ottoman court in Constantinople as a slave. Margherita charmed her way to freedom, and eventually married Sultan Sulieman the Magnificent, becoming Sultana, one of the most powerful women in the history of the Ottoman empire.