A debut historical novel follows an aristocratic family in 17th-century Croatia, at the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War.
In 1649, a young nobleman named Mauro Baric has inherited his father’s position as baron of their ancestral lands. Though only in his 20s, Mauro has been hardened by both the early loss of his brother and his years in combat, leading troops in service of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, of which he is a vassal. As the heir to the house of Baric, Mauro must not only live up to his late father’s legacy as a local ruler, but also enter into a long-ago arranged marriage to Resi Kokkinos, the daughter of an Ottoman Greek merchant and smuggler with whom his family conducts business. Both young people initially chafe at being forced to marry a stranger they do not love; Resi faces the particular hardships of living in a culturally strange land and existing at the whims of a husband who is often away. Over time, the newlyweds grow closer, and Resi begins to learn the inner workings of her new home. This novel—the first in a projected trilogy—is driven by research and a complexly developed social system. To this end, Bald includes a five-page history lesson before the first chapter and a 10-page glossary of characters at the back of the book, which includes drawings of period dress. Everyone from kitchen servants to Venetian princesses has a role in the book. And while many of these characters possess richly drawn emotional lives—the dislocated Resi is a particularly engaging heroine—a considerable reader investment in the Baric world is needed to make sense of the players and their positions. Great attention is given—in both narration and dialogue—to military organization, legal and taxation systems, gender roles, local politics, and a myriad of other specialized topics. While these focuses can slow down the plot, readers who make the commitment to the material will be rewarded with a full fictional immersion in a corner of 17th- century Europe.
An engrossing, research-heavy tale of Croatia in the early modern period.