A young woman caught up in a medieval witch hunt becomes one of the accused in Pedersen’s debut paranormal historical romance.
It’s 1491 in Florence, Italy. One year ago, Celestina DiCapria’s father was killed by a witch. Just as Celestina’s period of mourning ends, a call goes out to the people of the city to launch a crusade against every local witch. Bonfires are erected to burn them, and club-wielding youths fill the streets. Celestina, who works in her grandmother’s bakery, joins the persecution with gusto, as it gives her the chance to get vengeance on the woman who killed her father. She meets Rinaldo SanGiorgio, an art-loving stonecutter, and he falls for her. Their relationship is strained, however, when the crusade against witches expands to include beautiful works of art—works that Rinaldo believes represent the very soul of Florence. Celestina is willing to sacrifice such things on the altar of revenge, but then she’s accused of witchcraft by the leader of the hunt, Friar Thane Bruckner, after she refuses to burn an old woman alive. Will Rinaldo be able to save her? Pedersen’s prose evokes a Florence of inquisitors, seductresses, starry-eyed artists, and shaven-headed young men in the streets. The style of the book is a bit more high-flown and romanticized than the Philippa Gregory-esque fare that currently dominates modern historical fiction (“Her heart, which only this morning suffocated under a cloak of darkness, lightened with purpose”), but this approach to the subject manner feels appropriate. Pedersen’s version of a combustive, witch-mad Florence makes for a wonderful setting, and Celestina is a believably conflicted, if not very complex, protagonist. Those who are looking for a fun, extravagant read will enjoy this late-medieval adventure.
An engagingly ornate tale of an Italian witch scare.