But when word reaches him of the death of Cangrande della Scala, the master of Verona, Pietro must race back to Verona to prevent young Cesco's rivals from usurping his rightful place. With the tentative peace of Italy at stake, not to mention their lives, Pietro must act swiftly to protect them all. But young Cesco is determined not to be anyones pawn. Willful and brilliant, he defies even the stars. And far behind the scenes is a mastermind pulling the strings, one who stands to lose, or gain, the most.
Born from Shakespeare's Italian plays, in this novel we meet for the first time Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, the Nurse, as well as revisit Montague and Capulet, Petruchio and Kate, and the money-lending Shylock. From Ravenna to Verona, Mantua, and Venice, this novel explores the danger, deceit, and deviltry of early Renaissance Italy, and the terrible choices one must make just to stay alive.
On Friday I reposted my review of Master of Verona by David Blixt. There were a couple of reasons for doing so. The first was that I hadn't finished reading this book (bad blog tour participant) but another reason was that I really, really loved that book.
When I read it back in 2009, I was super excited at the prospect of a follow up book. So I waited and waited, and there was no news and then there was bad news - Voice of the Falconer wasn't going to be published. That is until David Blixt decided to self publish the whole series.
Back in January I named this book as my my most anticipated new HF release and I bought it as soon as it came out! Luckily I still managed to read this book in the year I declared that, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the world that David Blixt has created.
Voice of the Falconer starts 8 years after the events of the ending of Master of Verona. Pietro Alaghieri (son of the famed poet Dante) has been charged with raising the illegitimate heir to the great Cangrande, ruler of Verona. There are very few people who know of Cesco's existence and that is the way that everyone likes it. The plan is for Cangrande to name his heir officially when the boy is 15 years old, but when Cangrande appears to be be dead it is necessary to bring forward the reveal, setting in motion a chain events that twists and turns all over the place. Revealing Cesco's existence is bound to lead to questions but also danger, especially seeing there are other members of the della Scala family who are trying to position themselves to be the next ruler of the city-state of Verona.
The members of Cesco's adoptive 'family' are all intriguing - Pietro who struggles with his status as an ex communicant and who is doing his best to train Cesco up to fulfil his destiny, the Moor named Tharwat who has more secrets than most not the least of which is where he learned the skills that he is now passing onto Cesco, the doctor Morsicato and the young boy Detto who is Cesco's companion and friend. While they are all interesting in their own right, they are often reduced to secondary roles in the presence of Cesco who is portrayed as being superior in intellect, in wit, in horse riding skills and so much more. it is hard to believe that a child of 11 or 12 would be able to be all that, but for the role that Cesco has to play in the book it works.
This is a complicated world filled with betrayal and intrigue, cross and then double cross, family rivalries, a famous prediction yet to be fulfilled, a curse and oh so much more. It is a book that you manage to get lost in but where you also have to work a bit while you are reading because of the twists and turns in the various nefarious plots and the sheer number of characters. There are lots of Shakespearean references, some of which are more obvious than others, but even if you don't recognise them, the writing is strong enough to still carry you forward. There are also lots of battles and even though this is not my favourite thing to read, the way that Blixt describes them I can see the action as it unfolds, watch the sword swinging, the adrenalin in the battle, the blood and dust. He makes this particular aspect of the story just as readable as the rest of the book, something that doesn't always happen with some authors where it can feel somewhat more mechanical than genuine.
One of the secondary plots that makes this story interesting to read is that David Blixt is choosing to give the reader a retelling of the famous story of Romeo and Juliet, but rather than just starting with the young lovers that we are so familiar with he takes us back to where the feud started. In Master of Verona we saw where the feud began between the families we now know as the Montagues and the Capulets. In this book we see how the former friends deal with their troubled relationship and the difficulties that it causes within the context of Verona society and for those who are friends with them both, and also get to meet Romeo and Juliet as toddler and babe respectively. Blixt is choosing to retell the famous story with added depth and within the Renaissance setting and it really, really works. Even though you know how this particular aspect of the story ends, I can't wait to find out more of the details that the author has included in the next book in the series, which is already available.
I may have had to wait to read this book, but now that I have read it I do not hesitate to recommend both Master of Verona and this one to readers of historical fiction everywhere.