In a magical city in Italy, three royal brothers struggle with their desires and the roles destined for them at birth.
In this novel, Antonio, Matteo, and Claudio are sons of the Duca, ruler of Panduri—a town isolated from “Outside” (the real world)—where magic is prevalent and all natives are born with a special power. For instance, Antonio’s fiddle can call plants from the ground; Matteo’s poetry has similar potency; and Claudio’s talent involves singing. Their noble blood means the course of their lives has been set from birth, as with all royal sons of Panduri: “The First is Heir….Second is Protector….Third sons are Panduri’s priests, her Gentle Guardians.” But Antonio, the eldest son, rebels against his assigned role—he doesn’t want to stay in the capital plotting the star charts as the Heir. Instead, he usurps Matteo’s job as Protector, heading to Panduri’s border with its enemy town Careri. Matteo fumes at home—until Antonio mysteriously dies, and Panduri’s Deep Lore is thrown into upheaval. Matteo and Claudio are left to pick up the pieces; they’ll uncover family secrets that will set all of Panduri on a new course. There’s a lot to like about Tarquini’s (The Infinite Now, 2017, etc.) Italian-inflected fantasy story, starting with her often lyrical prose: “Poppies leapt from the soil, cosmos orbited the boxwood, laurels leafed the crown flowers, and silverbells tinkled a carillon.” Themes of family and fate are always at the forefront, and the magical talents of Panduri’s people have the dreamlike truth of a fairy tale. But while the author paints a captivating big picture, her small-scale character development remains superficial. Although Antonio, Matteo, and Claudio trade off passages of first-person narration, the voice doesn’t change. Minor characters, of which there are many, have purposes rather than personalities, and it’s difficult to keep track of them because there’s little here to emotionally engage with. The few female characters have little to do besides serving as sex objects or bearing lots of children.
A fantasy that offers strong themes and worldbuilding but lacks rich character details.