Friday, June 17, 2011

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

This review appeared in the Stratford Gazette on June 16, 2011
Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian 

The Daughter of Siena, by Marina Fiorato

In Tuscany the city of Siena has for centuries been divided into contrada, or administrative sections, named for various animals, and whose fierce competitions for power are legendary. The most notorious of these competitions is the Palio, a horse race lasting only 72 seconds, around the famous fan-shaped piazza in the middle of old Siena. It is around this event that Marina Fiorato based her latest novel, Daughter of Siena. 

In the early 1700’s the contrada vied for control of the city against the powerful – but dying - Medici dynasty. The Grand Duchess Violante de Medici, the childless, melancholy widow of Ferdinando, is aware of a conspiracy and enlists the aid of a young, unknown horseman, Riccardo Bruni of the Tower contrada. In the previous Palio Riccardo nearly outran the heavy favourite, the cruel Vincenzo Caprimulgo of the Eagle contrada, and is the only one to try to help Vincenzo when he is thrown from his horse mid-race. Riccardo’s futile efforts win him the respect of Faustino, leader of the Eagle contrada, but leaves leaves Pia Tolomei of the Owlet contrada without a betrothed – her relief at Vincenzo’s death lasts less than an hour as she finds herself then betrothed to Vincenzo’s equally malicious brother, Nello. Daily faced with examples of the Eagle’s ruthlessness, Riccardo and Pia become spies for the Medici Duchess as she tries to bring peace back to the city of Siena. In their shared duty they discover a true bond of love, one that harkens back to legends of the Round Table, and to tales from Dante. But they are not the only ones who uncover secrets – the Duchess discovers that the Medici went to pitiless lengths to secure power as well, with one such event having both terrible and wonderful consequences for herself.  

Daughter of Siena is another satisfying, rich read from Marina Fiorato, this one based on the historical figure of Violante Beatrix de Medici, whose laws defining the contrada’s powers and the rules of the Palio are still in use today. This novel should be of interest to anyone with a love of Italy, Italian history, horse-riding and Arthurian romance – the edition found at the Stratford Public Library contains a dialogue with the author as well as a guide for book clubs. Enjoy with a glass of chianti. Salute!  

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