This week’s novel for my Thursday Creation Review was a ‘must read’ that fit two reading genres and offered more: historical and equestrian, plus it was set in Italy.
The Shepherdess of Siena
Linda Lafferty (Goodreads Author)
Raised by her aunt and uncle amidst the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, young orphan Virginia Tacci has always harboured 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.
Review 4.3 stars
A Historical novel with horses and set primarily in Tuscany was a Must Read, and it proved enjoyable.
Virginia Tacci is the young shepherdess that loves horses and wants to ride – something that few women in the sixteenth-century can do on an even playing field with men. Even those from the nobility like Isabella de’ Medici that can attempt to ignore social expectations are prey to their male superiors – or those that believe in their right to manipulate and persecute.
This is a world of rules and rulers, and Linda Lafferty paints the period and the setting vividly, demonstrating her painstaking research. This is a realistic medieval world from attitudes to architecture, from struggling peasants to scheming nobility. Many of the characters are historical, yet the author gives them distinct personalities – at times needing to build on limited documentary evidence from the period. (The author’s notes at the end make the extent of the research clear.)
The novel is strongest when focused on the horses and on Virginia. It is their story that kept me reading from the birth of a key foal, through the event that makes Virginia the centre of a thread of plots. The equestrian elements were meticulous in their detail as well as vibrant. The choice of having the protagonist tell their own first-person story also worked and enhanced this central thread.
However, with multiple plotlines, there was a need for some of the other viewpoints used. All these were the third person, and, in most cases, these worked and gave the plotlines momentum. But, purely from this reader’s perspective, there were too many, and some characters suffered through too little ‘screen-time’. There were moments when I stopped and wondered if some of these POVs could have been amalgamated – perhaps giving one observer more chapters to record events as they experience them.
This applied to the probably accurate de Medici scenes which led me to comment, mid-reading, “Whose story is this?” At times, I wanted to get back to Virginia and the horses as those scenes had a momentum that never tailed off. Of course, to me ‘Mares rule’ – except I will always find room for a great stallion.
Virginia’s ride is not always easy and not just because of her gender, although that prejudice never lets up. The ending is unexpected, but many have argued that it is right given the era. One question was uppermost as the threads converged together: “How would the antagonists atone for their sins?”
How can a historical novel ever have a neat ending? Reality is never what we expect or desire. And life goes on beyond the end of a novel. If characters evolve, as they do here, then that is the truth.
Although this novel rates 4.3 stars adjusted to 4 stars, I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction especially if they love horses.
Story – four stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Authenticity – five stars
Characters – four stars
Structure – four stars
Readability – four stars
Editing – four stars