Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Leonardo's Shadow Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci's Servant

Leonardo's Shadow Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci's Servant

Christopher Grey
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2006   ISBN: 978-1416905431

Giacomo is not ungrateful that the great Leonardo da Vinci took him in but he is not always thrilled with his master either. All too often Leonardo treats him, Giacomo, like an idiot. He won't tell Giacomo about his past and about the precious items that he has in his procession – namely a medallion, a cross, and a ring. To make matters worse the painter refuses to teach Giacomo to paint. This is an especially painful grievance for the boy because he wants to become a painter more than anything.

At the moment, however, Giacomo has more to worry about than his own private problems. His master has been working on a painting called The Last Supper for almost two years and it is very far from being finished. The Duke of Milan, who commissioned the work, is getting very annoyed by the delay and has issued an ultimatum: either Leonardo finishes the painting or he, the duke, will get the young painter Michelangelo to finish it. Giacomo, and everyone in Milan, cannot understand why Leonardo doesn't just get on with the work. Because of his singular lack of interest in the project, Leonardo has not been paid for quite a while and because of this he is in debt to almost every shopkeeper in the city. How are the members of Leonardo's household going to eat and clothe themselves if this goes on?

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Leonardo appears to be working on a secret project. Giacomo is not the only one who wants to know what his master is up to either. Much to his dismay Giacomo is recruited by the Duke of Milan to spy on his master.

Then Leonardo is taken to the Duke's palace and he has to stay there until his work on his secret project, a flying machine, is finished. Now Giacomo and Leonardo's housekeeper are really in trouble. What are they to do for food? In desperation Giacomo decides to make a deal with the local shopkeepers. If they wipe out Leonard's debts and pay a fee, Giacomo promises that Leonardo will use their faces as models for his painting of the last supper.

Throughout this very trying time Giacomo continues to search for clues about his past. He becomes convinced that if he finds out about where his medallion comes from, he will find out who he is. He is even willing to make a deal with a man called Master Assanti, a member of the Brotherhood of Alchemists. Knowing full well that his master would not approve of this, Giacomo does not tell him about it. Which, as it turns out, is a very bad idea indeed.

In this thrilling book readers will take a fascinating journey into the world of Leonardo da Vinci, a man who was way ahead of his time and who did not like to be dictated to. Using Leonardo's Notebooks the author learned a great deal about this intriguing man who was "highly contradictory" in nature. The author learned that Leonardo had a servant called Giacomo and that, in his own way, he was very fond of the boy. Using the notebooks and his own his own considerable imagination, the author creates a story which is full of surprises and which ends in a highly satisfactory way.