David Blixt, |
The Master of Verona
(St. Martin's Press, 2007)
The ambitions and fears of the Italian city-states of the 1300s have become so fierce and entangled that people look toward the stars and prophecies to find the man who can save Italy. Pietro Alighieri knows his father, Dante, believes that man to be Cangrande della Scala, the "Great Hound" who is The Master of Verona; and Pietro is about to meet him.
A wanderer with his exiled father, Pietro never felt the rigors of battling, or realized how far loyalty could push him. Yet, within days of his arrival in Verona, he finds himself following others into war and making decisions that will keep him in the thick of it. Unbeknownst to Pietro, other choices will also place him in the midst of one of the most famous conflicts of all time: the feud behind the story of Romeo & Juliet.
Like Shakespeare, Blixt doesn't just lay down his scenes, he masters them. The pacing is practically flawless, an amazing feat for a debut novel, but perhaps to be expected of a Shakespearian actor and director. Blixt offers each character a moment for sympathy, to be understood, but allows no one's passion to overpower the momentum of his book. What readers needs to know, they find out with no confusion or overlong expositions, in defiance of the complicated details of the plot. Blixt also provides a level of intricacy in his combat scenes that gives them a level of intensity and vibrancy that's rare and spectacular.
From envisioning his historical characters brilliantly and imbuing them with so much strength that readers can feel their presences even after the final page, to refashioning Shakespeare's famed entities so cleverly that the details seem truly their own, Blixt's cast demands both attention and emotion. It is not difficult to remember individual personalities in spite of the large number of characters and the varying titles accorded some of them. What is difficult is having to wait for the sequel, The Voice of the Falconer to arrive this fall.
Be wary of thinking a knowledge of Shakespeare will prepare you for all of the twists in store, as this story turns around mystery as well as fate. Moreover, the bard shares the page with Dante's Inferno and its effects, which inevitably leads to literary analysis. Peppered with literary references, the historical stage of Verona's golden age remains the prominent theme, with politics claiming precedence even over love, where Blixt's book treads rather lightly for a novel inspired by Shakespeare's most renowned romantic tragedy. A genuine pleasure to read, The Master of Verona takes a city at the height of its power and breathes life through it from Hell to the stars.
1 March 2008
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