Piazza debuts with complex historical fiction linking Celtic mysticism to the medieval construction of Milan’s Santa Maria Nascente Cathedral.
In 1447, Milan’s Duke Filippo Maria Visconti dies without a male heir, threatening instability or aggression from the neighboring city-states of the Italian peninsula. There’s an eligible but unknown illegitimate son, Niccolò, but he’s too young to rule. On his deathbed, Filippo demands Archdeacon Onorio, part of the group supervising the cathedral’s construction, become the boy's guardian. The duke doesn’t know that Onorio’s also a member of the Brotherhood of Druids of the Light, nine "philosophers and wise men" with "faith in a divinity whose name had changed through time," originally venerating the Celtic goddess Belisama, who they believe is an incarnation of the Virgin Mary. In fact, the cathedral is being built over Medhelan, "the heart of the ancient Celtic shrine." Following Niccolò over three decades as he’s torn between the brotherhood and the world of flesh, Piazza’s narrative is chronological, but it’s complicated and moves slowly. However, amid the thoroughly detailed schemes, murders, and flashbacks to mystical Druid ceremonies, Niccolò proves a believable, likable hero, especially in interactions with contemporaries Lorenzo and Maria. The pair were street children who found their way into service of the new duke, Francesco Sforza, Filippo’s son-in-law. Lorenzo becomes a deadly assassin; beautiful Maria’s first the kept woman of the castle steward, later the madam of Ca’ Gioiosa, a brothel for the court’s courtiers, guests, and rich prelates. There’s a love story for Niccolò, much ado about the cathedral’s construction, political intrigue, rape, torture, and murders in this readable but overly detailed novel.
It’s Dickens-meets–New-Age-fantasy, but it’s an effort that may not fully satisfy fans of either genre.