Raised by her aunt and uncle amidst the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, young orphan Virginia Tacci has always harbored a deep love for horses. While she tends her flock, Virginia is captivated by the daring equestrian feats of the high-spirited Isabella de’ Medici, who rides with the strength and courage of any man. Inspired, the young shepherdess keeps one dream close to her heart: to race in Siena’s Palio.
I received an advance review copy from publisher via NetGalley. A HUGE thank you to NetGalley & the publisher for this opportunity to read and review.
I can tell this book is meticulously researched, which I very much appreciated. It is heavy on character. However, the time period & setting barely make an appearance. There was too much di’ Medici when there should have been more of a focus on the main characters and their struggles. Many of the di’ Medici politics needed to be cut. It was not necessary to the overall story, which is supposed to be about Virginia Tacci as well as her hope (Siena)/threat (Florentines) to the country. The political chapters were too many and became unnecessary. While I did not mind a little narration of di’ Medici lives, their roles took too much time away from the main storyline. Because the pacing was very slow, adding additional characters to the storyline weighed the plot down even more. It was fine when it related to Virginia, but then their stories took on superfluous narration.
I liked Virginia Tacci's struggle against traditional gender roles. I loved her unwavering spirit and spitfire nature. She approached life with all of her being. She was proud of who she was and could not let anything (being it injury or other people telling her no) stand in her way. She was always true to herself, which was a wonderful quality.
Halfway through the book, Virginia’s dream to ride the palio comes true. So after the palio race chapter, I could not possibly fathom what would hold my attention for much longer. As I suspected, the second half of the book is extremely slow and loses the intrigue brought in by Virginia. She was mostly absent for the second half of the book until the last couple chapters. The search for her whereabouts dragged for too long. I understand that there was little historical record left of her after the race, but this is where authors who try to bring to life these historical figures then to step in to create a plausible and satisfying ending for the reader. Where did the author’s research lead her to? There was way too much searching, court politics, and people dying one by one. It got very depressing. I also could not understand why Virginia’s whereabouts were not discovered earlier. All that they had to do was search the finances to see where a payment to a mysterious convent was going, check out the convent, and boom – done. There was a lot of pressure on the duca to pursue Virginia’s whereabouts, so you’d think he would have figured it out. I was put off by this unexplored avenue. I can understand that getting Virginia out of the convent would be difficult, but the chapters just… kept… going…
I liked the relationships between Virginia and the people of Seina, her relationship with the horses, and her impact as a female palio rider. I would have liked more of a focus on this instead of palace rumors. In fact, bringing in other women into the storyline would have been a very interesting plot thread.
Finally, this book desperately needs a list of names! The multiple “di, d’, de’, etc” Italian names proved difficult to keep straight. There also should also be a map of either the city or the country or, even better, both. There also needs to be a glossary to help clarify the Italian words and horse racing lingo. With the slower pace of the book, it was easy to get lost. This should be a fun exploration into a world dominated by men but inspired by a young woman. Instead its heavy on lingo and light on its theme.
Just released December 2016: "The Forgotten" volume 2 "Heir of the Heretic"
Reviewed and awarded the
2016 Indie Editor's Choice
by the Historical Novel Society.
Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.
Goodreads profile at: https://www.goodreads.com/JElse