Kay’s newest novel takes place in the same slightly fantastic version of Europe as his Sarantium books. The only fantasy elements really are the fact that this world has two moons, a speaking role for a ghost, and the power of some characters to foresee the future. Otherwise it’s as accurately historical to medieval Italy (mostly) as the author can make it.
Guidano Cerra is the narrator and storyteller, an old man retelling events from his youth that changed his life, and the course of the country’s history. We begin in the city of Mylasia where Guidano is serving in the household of the ruler, Count Uberto, nicknamed “The Beast” because of his habit of raping and killing young women periodically in his private rooms. Guidano and the other staff are horrified by this, but can do little to stop it. Guidano recognizes one young woman brought to the Count’s bedroom, though, as a noblewoman in disguise, Adria Ripoli. Her presence signals something different is going to happen this time, and it does. Adria succeeds in poisoning Count Uberto, but not before being stabbed in the thigh by him. Adria has an escape plan, the entire operation has been planned by her cousin the warlord Folco D’Accorsi in order to create chaos in Mylasia that he can exploit. Not quite understanding why himself, Guidano helps Adria escape, and remains haunted by her. Their paths will cross again.
This is only one of the stories told in the book, which includes battles, court intrigues, romance, power struggles, and the craziest horse race since Ben Hur, where Adria is one of the riders. Like all of Kay’s books I’ve read, it’s engaging, with great characters and wise insights into human nature along with surprising plot twists. The overall feel of the book is one of melancholy as the aged Guidano looks back on the bright moments of his youth and mourns what he’s lost, but often the story is so involving you forget that and are absorbed in the moment. Beautifully written and recommended.
Other books of his I’ve reviewed: