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After reading the reviews—and with a 4.1 rating on Goodreads—I was eagerly anticipating reading this book. I have lived in Italy, am a scholar in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian history, and enthusiastically devour anything set in that time and locale. I expected there to be artistic license taken with the historical record for the sake of Lafferty’s fictional narrative. What I didn’t expect was to be so thoroughly bored by this novel.
The characters were one-dimensional and unappealing, which was pretty surprising. The Medici were some of the most fascinating actors in Italian religious, political, and diplomatic history, yet I found their scenes wearying and perplexing. Because of my own research, I think I have a decent sense of the motivation for much of their behavior, but I got no inkling of it from reading the novel. The shepherdess who was ‘mad for horses’ and seemed to have a special affinity for them and they for her had such potential as a protagonist, but she came off mainly as self-absorbed, arrogant, and remarkably resistant to understanding anything outside of her own narrow aspiration.
The book was also a rather torturous listen. The dialogue was shallow and took twice as long as needed to impart the emotional or narrative information it seemed designed to convey. I kept plugging, thinking that eventually, the author would start giving some justification for what was happening: explaining the reactions of the conservative peasantry towards Virginia as well as what she and her family and friends realistically hoped for her future (I was pretty amazed that the aunt, who had figured so prominently as the voice of narrow-mindedness and intolerance in Virginia’s first 10 years, never appeared during her training or her early rides!).
It was not helped by the narration. While her voice was clear and strong, the reader often mispronounced the Italian. That wasn't as jarring as her vocal choices. The male voices were either drawling or nasal. Her use of a child's voice for the dwarf was rather insulting. He was an adult, albeit a person of short stature. Her vocal choice seemed dismissive, as if he was childlike.
Finally, about halfway through, I had to call the time of death on this book. Maybe the author addresses some of these issues in the second half of the novel, but life is too short to continue reading a book that I knew I would pan.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Start this one when you can really pay attention . . . it's a beautiful story, but I had to start it over . . . I am used to multi-tasking, and you really need to catch all of the beginning of this one . . . it may seem to start out slow, but it is wonderful . . . a little orphaned girl taken in by her aunt and uncle . . . spends days alone out tending the sheep . . . despised by her aunt, but adored by her uncle, who tells her stories of her father and his love of horses, . . and one day she sees a woman, Isabella De' Medici, out riding and hunting on horseback . . . something women are forbidden to do . . . the shepherdess, little six-year old Virginia Tacci,begins to dream of riding horses and racing in Siena's Palio . . . mocked by others, Virginia holds tight to her dream . . . the saga continues over decades during the renaissance period in Tuscany . . . telling the story of the tyrannical rule of the Gran Duca Francesco De' Medici . . . you will fall in love with the spirited young girl . . . and the horse that ran the Palio . . .
1 of 1 people found this review helpful