(Some spoilers…you were warned)
This intriguing book starts us off in July of 1729. The Palio di Siena is about to be run. The Palio is a horserace held every year on July 2 and August 16. The races still draw enormous crowds, packing in to see a colorful race which is over in just 90 seconds. There is much pageantry with this race but also an intense rivalry among the city districts. Each ward, represented by an animal symbol, puts forth a rider to claim the winner’s banner.
A shot of the plaza …….
The plaza during the Palio di Siena – what a crowd!!
I saw the cover of the book and thought it just a romance novel. No, there wasn’t a bare-chested man with rippling muscles clutching a woman with an agonized expression. This is a historical fiction (something I enjoy as much as a good ex-pat book), mystery and yeah, a bit of love thrown in there. I am happy to have read this one and will check on other books by Marina Fiorato.
The daughter of Siena is Pia Tolomei. Nineteen year old Pia is a sweet girl with a kind disposition. On the day of her birthday she is summoned to see her father, knowing she is about to married off. She did not have a choice as to whom or when she would marry. Pia is shocked to learn her father has given her to a cruel man of the Eagle Contrade, Vicenzo Caprimulgo.
“She knew Vincenzo by repute to be almost as villainous and cruel as his father, the notorious Faustino Caprimulgo. The Caprimulgo family, captains of the Eagle contrada, was one of the oldest in Siena , but the nobility of the ancient family was not reflected in its behavior. “
Pia is very unhappy with this arranged marriage and wishes for Vicenzo to die in the upcoming Palio. As she watches the race, her wish comes true when Vicenzo falls from his horse, fatally injured. The Eagle Contrade wins as the horse, Berio, won Scosso – which translates to winning without a rider. This doesn’t let Pia off the hook as her father then forces her to marry Vicenzo’s albino brother (who is just as vicious and cold). There is a deal among a few men to fix the next horserace, making sure the Caprimulgo family wins. The end result of the betting and money exchanges being they would control the city. Not secondary to this goal for power is removing Siena ‘s ruling governor – Violante de Medici. This governor and her de Medici family are not fictional characters.
The story was an easy read but had enough twists and mysteries in it to keep my attention. It also had me looking up the real life figures of Violante de Medici, her brother-in-law Gian Gastone de’ Medici and details about Il Palio. In the book Violante de Medici changes the laws governing the race and these rules are still in effect today.
The Tower Contrade rider was represented by character Riccardo Bruni. He has many surprising mysteries, some of which are not revealed until the last two chapters of the book. His interactions with Pia and the governor keep you intrigued.
More about the race:
Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen Contrade (which are city wards). The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as Il Palio) is held twice each year on July 2 and August 16 in Siena Italy . Each ward is represented by an animal symbol and the rider races to win a banner.
I am placing this review on the Italy in Reading 2011 site. This completes my fourth book in the challange.
More Info on Siena and Marina Fiorto