I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Fireship Press on 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction
In 1216 the noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily. Tensions simmer just below the surface. When a Jester's prank-for-hire sets off a brawl, those tensions erupt violently, dividing Florence into hostile factions. A marriage is brokered to make peace, but that fragile alliance crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, a scorned bride, and an outraged cry for revenge. At the center of the conflict is Corrado, the Jester, whose prank began it and who is now pressed into unwilling service by both sides. It will take all his wit and ingenuity to keep himself alive and to prevent the unbridled ambitions of the nobles from destroying the city in a brutal civil war
My name is Bry, and I am a glutton for Florence. Seriously, I could never get tired of reading about Italian history, and this city just absolutely captivates my passionate heart. I tend to focus on the Renaissance period and the Medici family as is my academic specialty, but on the rare occasion where I find a book that promises a ‘new’ take on my beloved city, I might just get a little excited. Juuust a little.
This is what A Thing Done did for me, taking place in the underdeveloped Florence of 1216, long before the Renaissance rebirth of art, culture, and thought would turn it into the powerhouse of the Early Modern World. During this time, a stolen plate of food at a party leads to insult, assault, marriages, murder, blood feud, and ultimate catalyst for the Guelphs and Ghibellines civil war. This drastic escalation of hostility is unraveled from the point of view of Corrado, the Jester that misfortune has marked to be at the unwitting center of this conflict. It is he that is strong armed by Italian nobleman Buondelmonte into the insulting display of stealing food, and he that is forcibly brought in to ‘serve’ the opposing sides as tensions increase.
Corrado, for all the shit that he has become mired in, is an intensely likeable character. He is skilled, humble, bold, deeply loyal to his friends and those he cares about, and slightly pigheaded. Most importantly, he overcame the obstacle of being too shallow – a common weakness for ‘fool’ characters. Despite becoming further and further entrenched in the blood feud conflict, Corrado attempts to do the ‘right thing’, if such an option exists, and often suffers for it. He is the paradigmatic scapegoat, the classic pawn, and yet he is still a whole person with dreams and losses, fears and judgements, who cannot be written off.
Because the tension of this massive blood feud never eases, there is not a moment of lull in the plot – even when Corrado escapes the clutches of one noble to another long enough to breathe, he must manage the interrogation of his best friends. And just when he is able to assuage their growing suspicions, he is drawn deeper into intrigue and danger. Furthermore, there are just too many players in the conflict, too many vested interests and self serving motives for anything to go purely to plan. How this will end is anyone’s guess.
As a writer, Heath was fantastic with her detail. She brought her historical figures to life with vigor and complexity that often made it difficult to choose a side. Each character was someone to love, to pity, and to hate, wrapped into a maelstrom of family pride. She made the conflict multi-dimensional and real, where the lines of morality and justice become so blurred that it is easy to be as lost as our Fool, inextricably entangled in inevitable events. Heath unravels her most tense moments with beautiful finesse and rich detail. Even though the death of Buondelmonte was such an infamous black stain on Florence’s history that it has been immortalized in painting (see below), the visual imagery provided in the book was as rich as the image, and with more feeling.
This was one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and it comes highly recommended.