Author: David Blixt
Genre: historical fiction, retellings
Series: Star-Cross'd #1
Published: July 2007
Source: HFVBT for review
In 1314, seventeen year old Pietro Alighieri travels to Verona with his father, the infamous poet Dante, at the invitation of its leader, the legendary Francesco “Cangrande” della Scala. A sneak attack from Padua leads Pietro into his first battle, fighting alongside the charismatic Cangrande, and into a tight friendship with Mariotto Montecchio and Antonio Capulletto. Behind the scenes, repeated attempts are made against the life of a child believed to be Cangrande’s illegitimate son and possible heir.
Pietro is drawn into the web of intrigue around the child and the tension building between Mariotto and Antonio over a woman betrothed to one and in love with the other – a situation that will sever a friendship, divide a city, and ultimately lead to the events of the best known tragic romance in the world.
If you were to create a sweeping historical novel set in 14th century Verona with prophecy, jealousy, conspiracy, deception, murder, betrayal and star-crossed love, The Master of Verona is what you would get. It's a long novel, a dense one as well, that packs in a multitude of players, ideas, themes, and carries them from place to place in convoluted, intricately-woven plot of destiny and desire. Taking favorite novels like Romeo and Juliet, and authors of Italian classics like Dante himself, and reinterpreting/re-humanizing them in a new way, David Blixt has set quite a standard with just the first in his Star-Cross'd series. With a keen eye for period and setting detail as well as for crafting a diverse, interesting cast of engaging heroes (and anti-heroes), Blixt has proven himself a more than capable storyteller with talent to burn.
As the author acknowledges in his (extremely readable and interesting) afterward, certain details from historical record have been hedged or completely changed to suit the version of the story he wanted to create. It's all to the benefit of the story, as the immense detail and description provided do more than enough to create a real feel for both characters and the Italian city-state they fight for, and defend, so staunchly. The place as character is really worth mentioning - it's as top notch as the brisk battle scenes, and as alive as the eponymous master of Verona himself, Francesco "Cangrande" della Scala, himself. So much about The Master of Verona is epic in scope - the characters, the plot - and the setting(s) of the novel are no different. Each time the narrative jumps from one place to another, be it Antonia in Florence or a battle in Padua, each scene set in an Italian city is remarkably vibrant, down to the clothes the characters are wearing. Verona especially receives the time and attention of this detail-orientated author, and it is ever more to the benefit of his readers. Seeing the disparate parts of a war-like and divided Italy recreated by such an able author was endlessly fascinating, from Venice to Verona to Padua.
With new twists on famous people, either fictional (Romeo, Juliet) or factual (Cangrande, Dante), Blixt breathes life into his characters. Main character and chief protagonist Pietro Alaghieri (formerly Alighieri) is one of those most interesting characters, but it is the titular Master of Verona, Cangrande himself, that looms larger than life in this debut novel. His actions affect everyone around him, set the plot in motion, and engage the reader. He's more distant than 3rd-person narrator of Pietro, but he commands a lot of attention from the page he is introduced. As Pietro is drawn ever closer to the Great Hound of Italy, plots and conspiracies grow ever more dangerous. The beginning is the hardest go get a sure grasp on the cast, and their respective agendas - the complicated and multiple names, alliances, marriages, cousins - of each character can make it hard to differentiate between multiple people. While the dramatis personae and supporting characters listed at the front of the novel do help, soon nough Blixt grants each character more than enough time, dialogue and action to distinguish themselves from their compatriots (or enemies, in the case of minor antagonist Marsilio de Carrara), but none more than the illustrious and charmed Capitane of Verona.
Clocking in at a hefty and respectable 592 pages, reading The Master of Verona is no mean feat, or an easy commitment. The daunting page count, the impressive cast of characters, the innumerable plots and subplots can be daunting when starting out on such a detailed, intricate journey. I did find this a rewarding, engaging read -- for the most part. The tendency to wax poetic and get rather longwinded is one of the few faults I found while racing through this novel over a two day period. Obviously the digressions and occasional repetitions were not egregious enough to put me off my read entirely, but certain sections of the novel do seem worthy of editing down a page or five, and kept this from a 5/5 rating for me, personally. It was so close to perfect, but I couldn't completely sign off on the last chapters of this epic novel. The last 150 pages, barring the final 10, were the hardest for me to get through patiently. I was eager to get to the bottom of everything that had come to pass, and it all seemed just a little bit too drawn out - with escapade after escapade coming quickly.
With complicated characters, a truly ingenious plot full of unforeseen - and gamechanging! - twists, Blixt is an author who certainly knows how to subvert expectations skillfully. The ending events and revelations that come at the denouement of The Master of Verona are, without doubt, one hell of a doozy. It was one that managed to take me completely by surprise, due to the actions of characters with even more hidden agendas than I had figured out/assumed. Not afraid to toy with preconceptions or previous hints, Blixt ably and succinctly pulled some very deft maneuvering that felt both natural, as well as remarkable. The revelations are creative, clever, and a smart way to ensure continued readership for the next book in Blixt's series, Voice of the Falconer.
I had a lot of fun with this book. I love when authors aren't afraid to try for a lot, or something new, and Blixt does both here, in a debut, no less! I was impressed by the subtlety of the plot, the complexity of the characters and their motivations, and by the ease with which he re-imagined such pop culture favorites (the new Capulletes and Montecchio's and how complelxly their feud evolved had me more invested in a R&J retelling than any I've read before). Fourteenth century Italy has never been more intriguing, or dangerous, than when penned by this promising and talented author. I can't wait to see what is in store for the final two volumes of the Star-Cross'd series.
If you're interested, don't miss the other stops on the virtual tour!
Review (Her Majesty's Will) at A Bookish Affair
Review (The Master of Verona) at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, December 5
Review & Giveaway (Colossus) at Broken Teepee
Author Guest Post & Giveaway (Her Majesty's Will) at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, December 6
Review & Giveaway (The Master of Verona) at Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, December 7
Review (Her Majesty's Will) at So Many Books, So Little Time
Review (The Voice of the Falconer) at Tanzanite's Castle Full of Books
Monday, December 10
Author Guest Post at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Review & Giveaway (The Master of Verona) at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Tuesday, December 11
Review (The Voice of the Falconer) at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, December 12
Review (The Master of Verona) at The Musings of a Book Junkie
Author Guest Post (Her Majesty's Will) at A Bookish Libraria
Thursday, December 13
Review (Her Majesty's Will) at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Author Interview (The Master of Verona) at The Musings of a Book Junkie
Friday, December 14
Review & Giveaway (Her Majesty's Will) at Kinx's Book Nook
Author Guest Post & Giveaway (Her Majesty's Will) at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Monday, December 17
Review (Her Majesty's Will) at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, December 18
Review (Fortune's Fool) at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, December 19
Review (The Master of Verona) at Enchanted by Josephine
Review & Giveaway (Her Majesty's Will) at The Maiden's Court
Thursday, December 20
Review (Voice of the Falconer) at Enchanted by Josephine
Friday, December 21
Review (The Master of Verona) at Bippity Boppity Book
Review (Voice of the Falconer) at Historical Tapestry & The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Author Interview at Enchanted by Josephine