In this debut historical fantasy, two young men become apprenticed to a seer during the Renaissance, igniting a rivalry for the man’s daughter.
Savinus di Benevento is a famed and respected seer in Pesaro, Italy, in 1585. He performs readings and geomancy (to help farmers grow crops) with great success and has won the patronage of Conte Leonardo Valperga. Savinus’ only family is a caring, strong-willed daughter named Giulia. Seeking to train a replacement, he tests some teen boys, asking them to discern what objects hide beneath three cups. A 17-year-old named Antonius Sardi proves to be genuinely psychic. But the Conte’s son Nichola is also present, displaying minor talents. Savinus takes on Antonius but realizes, to be diplomatic, he must apprentice Nichola as a second. As the teens begin examining mystical knowledge—the more arcane of which, including transforming into animals, the church considers evil—they both fall for the gorgeous Giulia. Though intelligent, she’s no match for Nichola’s masculine wiles. The two grow closer, much to Antonius’ chagrin. Ever the gentleman, he keeps his intense love for Giulia quiet and focuses on his studies. And yet, his closer bond with Savinus enrages the spoiled Nichola, who begins sabotaging Antonius’ career, first in petty—and then deadly—ways. Murdoch presents a delightful romance, feathered with light touches of fantasy. The development of her love triangle is gratifying, and even secondary characters offer stark dramatic moments; the Conte tells his son: “He has appointed you only out of respect for our family and his friendship with me. Stop complaining and show some appreciation.” Spirit protectors Arion and Agathe reveal a deeper level to Savinus’ work, and in their world lies “a vast shimmering ocean stretched to the horizon, the cobalt waters breaking against the shore with rhythmic sighs.” Best of all, Murdoch delivers wisdom valuable to anyone trying to master a field: “Those who are consumed by negative thoughts about others cannot possibly reach the level of purity required.” Despite a clever, definitive ending, readers may clamor for a sequel.
Italy sparkles in this layered 16th-century romance.