Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato
The Palio: Siena's famously dangerous and hard-fought horse race. A year of planning, ten riders, three circuits of the piazza - and all over in a single moment. But this year, for two of the women watching, far more than the coveted prize is at stake. For Pia of the Tolomei, the most beautiful woman in Siena, the Palio is her last hope of escaping a violent marriage. For Violante de Medici, it marks the start of what her enemies intend to be her last month as governess of the city. Isolated in her palace, surrounded by conspirators, she must find the courage to uncover a plot that threatens her very existence. The trumpets sound. And into the piazza rides an unknown horseman, clad in the colours of the Tower contrada. What he does during the race will not only change the lives of Pia and Violante, but alter the course of the Medici dynasty itself.
I am struggling to review this one. I loved it possibly too much. It took me ages to read, as I forced myself to read it very slowly. And it is a good pace to read it - beautifully written, deeply evocative, with a great sense of place with rich local colour, Daughter of Siena blew me away.
I have never heard of the horse race - palio - before. In fact, I know nothing about Siena or anything about this part of the world or its history (apart from the de Medici's, of course) and so went in wholly open-minded and unsuspecting.
Pia is the one through which the majority of the story is told. We learn, through her observations about the palio, and her destiny - to be married off to the son of the opposing clan, The Eagles. Pia is an Owlet and deeply unhappy about the match. And she has reason to be - her betrothed is a mean piece of work. We meet him, only briefly, but he has such stunning impact that you are within moments, 100% on Pia's side, no matter what happens.
We are also introduced to Violante de Medici whom I fell in love with - strong and interesting, flawed and layered, this is the type of heroine that changes history. She frets about the state of politics in Siena and knows full well that the Nine lords which ruled the city in the past, are making a move against her but she feels alone, unhappy and set upon.
The author has created two wonderful heroines which you can't help but like. They are flawed, interesting and feel very real. I revelled in the Pia and Violante's respective stories. Each woman struggles to overcome her current plight and fights for freedom in her own way, but it is far more than that.
The novel is a rich tapestry of love, hate, passion, obsession, politics, masquerades, lies and much conniving. What I thoroughly enjoyed too is how beautifully it is written. The voice carries the story and Siena is described with such love and intimacy that it becomes a character in the novel. I can't wait to watch the palio in real life and visit Siena and drive through the countryside.
This genuinely has become one of my favourite novels of 2011 and I cannot wait to get the chance to re-read it. I almost wish it would be made into a movie or a tv series, but I also hope (selfishly) that it doesn't because I don't think anything can do it justice.
Find the author's website here. The paperback of Daughter of Siena is out now.