A mystical stone and time travel play roles in the redemption of the Renaissance-era priest and reformer Girolamo Savonarola in this unusual historical fantasy.
At the end of the 15th century, Brother Girolamo seeks to keep his adopted city of Florence both physically safe and spiritually pure in the wake of the death of the great politician Lorenzo de’Medici and a looming invasion by both the French and an army of demons that only Brother Girolamo can see. Even armed with his abilities to cast those demons back to hell and to prophesy the future, he cannot keep his enemies from the secular world of politics or rivals in the church from executing him for heresy. But after his death, Girolamo learns that his entire life was a lie: In fact, he is a demon, a Duke of Hell condemned to live the same life over and over in mortal form, unable to receive divine mercy or make a lasting difference. But when he’s sent back to Florence the next time, something changes: The touch of a green stone brings back Girolamo’s memories of his demonic existence and his repeated lives. With that hideous knowledge, Girolamo wonders if it’s possible to change destiny, both for Florence and himself. He begins forging alternate paths in the secular and religious worlds, which eventually intersect with another embodied demon who calls himself Crookback but whom history knows as Richard III of England. Walton masterfully engenders sympathy for the fanatic Savonarola, conveying how devastating it is to remember God’s love but be forever cut off from it. This book may also impel her close readers to perform their own feats of intellectual gymnastics. Walton’s Thessaly trilogy (Necessity, 2016, etc.) features two of Girolamo’s friends, the historical figures Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, who are snatched out of time just before their deaths by the Greek gods to participate in an attempt to build Plato’s Republic. This suggests that not only does the Judeo-Christian God coexist with the Greek pantheon, but that both employ time travel to explore philosophical possibilities; that indeed, it is a vital part of the theological toolbox.
By itself, a fascinating meditation on the choices which alter lives and the course of history; in the context of Walton's other novels, positively mind-bending.