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 - though she knows she may never have the chance to ride. As a shepherdess in sixteenth-century Italy, Virginia's possibilities are doubly limited by her peasant class and her gender. Yet 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, much to the horror of her brother, the tyrannical Gran Duca Francesco De' Medici.
Inspired, the young shepherdess keeps one dream close to her heart: to race in Siena's Palio. Twenty-six years after Florence captured Siena, Virginia's defiance will rally the broken spirit of the Senese people and threaten the pernicious reign of the Gran Duca. Bringing alive the rich history of one of Tuscany's most famed cities, this lush, captivating saga draws an illuminating portrait of one girl with an unbreakable spirit.
©2015 Linda Lafferty (P)2015 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.
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.
Because I don't speak Italian it was hard for me to understand some of the language that was used. Some of the names were a little confusing because they they sounded so much the same. I'm sure anyone with some Italian background and knowledge would totally enjoy this book.
The story line was engaging and felt realistic. The performer doesn't do young children's voices very well but managed to make the Italian words sound timeless.
A beautiful love story that encompasses both humans and horses. Not typical with many surprising twists. The story would have been perfect but for the narrators poor pronunciation of some of the Italian words. There were many characters on this book which she handled well.
Loves it anyway!
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