3 out of 4 stars
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The Laureate by Ken Tentarelli introduces the reader to Nico Argenti, an enthusiatic and idealistic young man who has recently graduated from law school. It is August of 1464, shortly after the death of Cosimo Medici, and Nico travels home to put his degree to use in Florence. While waiting for his application and subsequent magistrate appointment, Nico learns that there is much political unrest in Florence. Many leaders of the Republic believe that the Medici family is too powerful and that their control must end. However, these leaders appear less interested in the good of the Republic and more interested in their own political gain.
Bartolomeo Scala, a Florentine Chancellor, recruits Nico to spy on the wealthy and powerful suspects who threaten the political future of Florence. Scala is certain that the leaders of the Republic are planning to violently usurp power. He heard rumors of a possible assassination attempt, but the assassin and the target remain unclear. Nico, eager to assist in this puzzle, uses his legal knowledge and knowledge of Florentine people and politics to unravel the mystery. Can Nico unveil the murderous plot and help bring peace to Florence?
One of my favorite lines in the book is, “When big men throw rocks at each other, small men get hit with stones.” This line, spoken by Nico’s hard-working cousin, reveals a lot about Nico and why he feels compelled to help Scala. Nico is a moral young lawyer who is loyal to the integrity of the Republic, and he knows that some of the leaders will do anything to gain control. He, like Scala, does not want to see the people of Florence suffer because of an insidious power struggle. The author skillfully uses thought-provoking analogies like this throughout the novel to develop characters and highlight the theme.
I enjoyed reading The Laureate. The author’s knowledge of the Italian Renaissance is impressive, and the story is rich with information about Italy during the 1400’s. Though the focus of the story is about politics, government, and church intrigue, there are also details about architecture, cultural habits, cuisine, fashion, society life, art and more. The author is clearly an expert in Italian history, and he uses it to create a thorough, well-rounded setting and group of characters for his story.
Even though I am amazed by the wealth of knowledge of the author, the way in which the background information is relayed seems a bit forced. Too much information is given at once, which makes the pacing at the start of the story slow. At times, the exposition reads more like a textbook than the beginning of a novel. I am glad for the background information, but I wish it were woven into the story more. It seems like a rather forced way to explain the nuances of Florentine government, and it made for a slow start to an otherwise engaging story.
This is an interesting piece of historical fiction that I recommend to readers who enjoy mysteries. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. The story and the setting are intriguing, the characters are well developed, and the author's knowledge of the Italian Renaissance is remarkable. However, there are grammatical errors throughout the novel. The writing shifts tenses repeatedly, and there are many missing or misplaced commas. Most of the errors did not interfere with the context, but the tense shifts did often make me stop and reread the sentence. Even with the errors in conventions and the slower exposition, this is a novel worth reading.
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