by David Blixt
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.
Inspired by the plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the events of history, The Master of Verona is a compelling novel of politics, loyalty, conspiracy and star-crossed romance.
Expectations: The plot summary of this book promised much in epic intrigue and sweeping character driven drama. The addition of it being inspired by true events was a big draw for me, as I prefer to read my history within the framework of entertaining fiction. (When I first visited London, I decided to read "London" by Edward Rutherford for my background on the city. Great book!)
This book was a slow start - there are a lot of characters (handily detailed in the beginning, like a dramatis personae for a play) and a lot of exposition to set up, but once I got through that and had a feel for the characters, the book became extremely engaging. I had no knowledge of the specific period of history the author was referencing, so I found the story to be that much more suspenseful and fascinating, simply because I was learning so much about the time period. I was surprised that the language the characters spoke was in a modern style but it wasn't a major flaw in my opinion. The characters were believable and well-rounded and the plot was exciting and well-paced. There was quite a lot of action and dialogue the author has to balance while also giving relevant historical details, but I never felt that the story's pace was bogged down by too much information.
Despite the involving plot, I think the characters were the best part of the book. Pietro's growth was especially heart-warming, because he started off as being quite weak to being the most admirable character in the book. Which is hard to admit because Cangrande, with his fierce skill in the art of war, his reckless courage, passionate nature, and intelligence, has become one of my favorite characters. I could understand and even emulate Pietro's devotion to him. If the real-life Cangrande was anything like this fictional representation, I will have to put him on my list of people to visit... when time travel has been invented. This book is full of surprising twists and turns, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in great historical fiction.