A few weeks back I was thrilled when David Blixt emailed me about his debut novel, MASTER OF VERONA. Michelle Moran loved it and she's such a sweetheart, so I had to check it out. I expected a paperback ARC, but was stunned when St. Martins Press sent me a gorgeous, brand new hardcover novel! It's a historical. Italian Renaissance. Shakespeare-inspired. What's not to love? Now, if you were taught to hate all that stuff in high school, let go of the pain. Your high school failed you. Don't let that experience rob you of the pleasure of this novel!
THE MASTER OF VERONA is not the kind of novel you cram into your purse to read while waiting in line at the grocery store. First of all, it's too dang big and heavy. Secondly, it sweeps you away to different time and place that you'll want to stay in for a good, long while, preferably without interruptions. It may work for the doctor's office. Otherwise, set aside time to curl up with it at home or in the great outdoors.^
Don't skip the cast list or the map at the beginning. And don't skip the prologue! I almost always skip the prologue because few authors do them well. However, this one's riveting. It starts out inside the skin of a man trying to get into the city to carry out something. You have no idea if this is a hero on a mission and what task he needs to accomplish. You smell the stink of the city, feel the dirty water and slimy river bank, and you start rooting for this character. Then, towards the end of the prologue you realize something horrible and you're like, "Oh, no!" It's like a short story, because at the end you'll be stunned and you'll cheer and you'll wonder what the heck is behind it all. The prologue definitly accomplishes it's task of making you want to read the novel.^
The novel starts out behind the eyes of Pietro, a teen on the verge of manhood. Most of the story is told from his point-of-view. He's coming to Verona with his exiled father, Dante. Yes, I mean Dante as in 'Dante's Inferno.' The famous poet. You can tell the author was once a teenage boy, because he nails the character without falling back on cliche like so many authors (especially female ones) do. You can also tell he's a public person because of Pietro's uneasy feelings about his father's fame. Mr. Blixt is a Shakespearean actor. Besides the public person factor, you can feel that experience in the dialogue and the general ambience of the storytelling.^
In any case, Pietro accompanies his father to Verona where he meets a variety of relations, cousins, old friends of friends, enemies, and such, including a boy named Romeo who hates being called that.^
In case you don't know much about the history of the 1300s, please bear in mind that Europe is nearing the end of Middle Ages. During this time, feudal states were constantly clashing with each other. War was a path to glory and wealth. John Lennon had not yet crooned, "Imagine all the people living in harmony..." Armies would charge into certain death just to be known as brave. Nowadays, we would call it stupid. Yet, humans are still fighting over stupid things, so I don't think we should be smug about it.^
Wanting glory and to prove his manhood, Pietro is quickly swept into the political intrigue of Verona and right into battle. The description of battle and all of Verona is riveting. Despite his lack of experience, he survives and is hailed a hero. Then, he meets Katerina, a beautiful, married woman twice his age.^
Ookay, I'd better stop there. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, just enough to make you want to read the novel. Despite being mostly written in Pietro's point-of-view, there is plenty for women readers to relate too as well. Katerina is a force to be reckoned with and so is Pietro's sister. The role of women in that society and time period is brought into more vivid focus than you'll ever read in a history textbook. I must confess, I always thought Juliet was a wimp and I just wanted to slap her. You won't find any heroines like that in this novel.^
Wait a minute. I have to tell you about the baby. The plot thickens when Pietro helps Cangrande retrieve a baby. At first, you might recoil at the attitude of Pietro towards this baby. It's important to know that, at the time, children born to parents not married to each other were not well thought of and he considers this baby a bastard. There were lots of illegitimate children because marriages were arranged for polictical and monetary reasons. Love was found elsewhere. Leonardo De Vinci was illigitimate and couldn't attend the good schools because of it.^
Back to the baby. Katerina, the woman Pietro is fascinated with, is the sister of Cangrade and they adopt this baby, which sends up a firestorm of gossip that they're trying to use a bastard as a legitimate heir. This fuels the feud which drives the story.
Michelle Moran interviewed David Blixt September 9th at http://historicalfictionauthorinterviews.blogspot.com/
This is David Blixt's website. http://www.themasterofverona.com/ You can find his blog through that. Don't be afraid to email him with questions or comments. He responds promptly and politely.