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.
Sometimes it happens that I really love a book, but I still don't get around to writing a review for it straight away (or at all, but we won't think about all those unwritten reviews just now!). This is one of those books.
My interest was initially drawn to the idea of setting a book at the time of Romeo and Juliet, but this is much more than a retelling of that famous tale. It isn't even the main action within the novel, but it is an important component.
The story is more about Pietro Alighieri, son and reluctant heir to his father, the famous and controversial poet Dante Alighieri. I say reluctant because for many years Pietro was the second son of a famous man, not really expected to do much in terms of continuing his father's legacy, but with the death of his older brother, Pietro finds himself fulfilling a role that he is ill suited for.
He is given the chance to shine when he unexpectedly gets to fight with Francesco "Cangrande" della Scala, charismatic leader of Verona. This engagement also brings him into contact with his new best friends, Mario and Antonio. The boys are friends, but they are also competitors both in the contests of the Palio and for two of them, in love. This very first fight begins with a flying leap off of a balcony onto horseback - a very telling sign of the type of swashbuckling to come throughout the book!
Blixt skilfully deals with the historical figures of Dante and Cangrande, Shakespeare's famous love story, an intriguing suspense subplot plus provides the reader with an engaging, exciting and engrossing story with a large cast of well written characters.
There is lots of action in the pages between the battles and the pageantry associated with medieval Italy. For me, the highlight of the book is definitely the day of the Palio. The colour, the spectacle and the pageantry are incredibly detailed but also very readable with the naming of the new knights, the speech of the oracle where it is declared that "Verona will always be remembered for love" and the crazy midnight foot race where the participants all run naked through the streets coming to life vividly through the words on the page!
This is an excellent historical fiction debut, and I for one, am very much looking forward to reading the next book from David Blixt, which will pick up where the action of this book left off!
When it comes to grading books I think that I am an easy grader when it comes to 4/5 books, but very, very hard when it comes to 5/5 books. This book is one of only three 5/5 books so far this year! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read historical fiction.