In Cacciari’s debut medieval drama, a lord’s impending death ignites a volatile relationship between a brother and sister.
In the early 12th century, Reiner d’Ivry leaves the monastery, where he’s spent the better half of his childhood, to see to his dying father, the Lord of Sundorgate. Reiner soon learns that he’s been presumed dead and that his sister, Drusiana, is their father’s heir. She says she’ll relinquish her inheritance if Reiner leaves the cloister and stays in Sundorgate. Reiner, however, is determined to marry Drusiana off to a son of their father’s comrade-in-arms. The novel doesn’t offer a magical medieval tale with dragons, knights and clanking swords but a more realistic story of feuding siblings. Readers may find it much easier to sympathize with Drusiana, despite Reiner’s first-person perspective (presented as a confession to a fellow monk). Her reluctance to wed comes across as practical and almost endearing, as she cuts her hair short and dresses as a male. Her brother, meanwhile, is desperate to prove that Drusiana is insane or has a lover, and he slowly becomes deranged himself. His fierce account is often unnerving, as when he breaks into laughter when kneeling to pray and, at his lowest point, drops a rat into a pie that someone later eats. Readers may find it a challenge to follow such a frantic protagonist, but there’s a short reprieve when Reiner returns to the monastery. He soon learns why Drusiana hasn’t sought a potential husband, and the story takes a gleefully dark turn. Cacciari steeps the narrative in the language of its era, so readers with a fear of medieval dialect may want to steer clear, but others will appreciate how the dialogue shuns modernization. Others will be swayed by Reiner’s haunting, ominous moments (“I had shut my eyes as a child and awakened an old man.”). The novel also includes glossaries with Latin translations.
An ambitious, intricately composed novel of medieval siblings.