The plot begins when the infamous poet Dante Alighieri (long exiled, and now a caustic celebrity) joins the court of his new patron, Francesco della Scala, called Cangrande, the cunning, charismatic, ruthless, and dazzling Lord of Verona.
Over the template of Cangrande's raucous real-life exploits, Blixt sows the seeds of themes, plots, and characters that will evolve into some of Shakespeare's most famous plays, to be further developed in the next three books (and counting) in the series.
Despite teasing hints, few of Shakespeare's actual characters appear in this book, but the devilish glee with which Blixt foreshadows conflicts and stories to come keeps us turning the pages.
The story is so dense with historical action and intrigue, I meant to skim an early, detailed battle scene, but the character-building was so excellent, I didn't want to miss a word. (Also, the busy plot demands you pay attention!)
|Statue of Cangrande, Verona|
It may take Blixt 100 pages to describe the events of a single day, but he knows his Shakespeare, his Dante, and his Renaissance Italian history. And there's literally never a dull moment!
It's fascinating to watch protagonist Pietro Alighieri evolve from studious youth longing for the approval of his famous father, accidental war hero, and confidant of Cangrande, into a man for whom honor and justice are so ingrained, he doesn't even realize how extraordinary his values are.
Full disclosure: I started reading this book for practical (or possibly piratical) reasons. Working on my own Italian Renaissance project, I was hoping to steal, er, sample some of the period color.
|Evidently, flamboyant Cangrande laughed at danger!|
So, I found both books online. The first one was a little too YA for me. Then I picked up this daunting volume: it weighed a ton, the pages were numerous, and the print was tiny.
Well, I thought, I'll just skim through it and hopefully pick up a little of the flavor of the era through osmosis.
Hah! Flavor? This book is a fourteen-course meal! No point standing on ceremony; better just dive in, for all the reasons mentioned above!