It's dangerous for a girl to be a mathematical prodigy in 18th-century Rome. Daniela and her father withdraw themselves from the world until Balsamo (known to history as the occultist Cagliostro) arrives, claiming Daniela has inherited the secrets of a longdead Jewish mystic who announced himself as the Messiah.
God may not watch the world from on high, but I do. A third-storey window leads onto the roof and I have scrambled over the tiles to my flat and secret hiding place and I have looked out over Rome. Here, from our house on the hill, while I look down on the church of Santa Francesca and the convent, the belltower rises in the distance, almost on a level with my eyes. The ruined arch at the near end of the church seems to be getting higher, growing up to poke through the screen of trees. If the arch means something–and Balsamo says it does–I swear I know nothing about it.
Daniela Messo was my mother's name and what they called me at birth. But I have no mother. I am Minerva, sprung forth with a yell from my father's skull. He raised me to be a genius, though I have been called other things. Now, at seventeen, I cannot be counted a prodigy anymore, so what am I to be?
I am what I know. So put it all down, Daniela. Then mystery must yield to study, and fears to facts.