Treviso’s engaging historical novel of revolution and revenge, his accomplished debut, deepens the Puzo-fied public perception of Sicily and its history while offering the vivid, often bloody story of the Sicilian Vespers, the epochal 13th century uprising of the island kingdom’s people—and its stiletto-mastering cavaleri warriors—against the French king and his Angevin army. At the tale’s heart is Aetna, the young daughter of one of those knights, her name pointedly suggesting Mount Etna, a Sicilian volcano ready, like the island’s oppressed people, to blow. After bearing witness to tragic violence in her childhood, Aetna at age 20 becomes the living proof of her father’s words: “We are not fearful, because we know that as Sicilians, no matter where we are thrown, we will always land standing.”
This epic telling of a story too rarely told is powered by that zeal, as Treviso vaults ahead in time, from Aetna’s childhood to the hours before Vespers–a chapter-heading timestamps add a thriller’s momentum to a novel deeply concerned with character, history, and the immersive dramatization of long-gone ways of life—but also enduring truths about courage, loyalty, and honor. Treviso proves adept at presenting vicars and generals, cathedrals and markets and a dazzling cave, and the horror and glory of fighting for what matters, as Aetna of the volcanic spirit faces overwhelming odds—and connects ever more deeply to her home and its people.
The action is crisp, clear, brutal, and frequent, and Treviso’s not shy about terror and torture: General Rochefort, a memorable villain, relies so often on a neck vise the he keeps it cinched to his belt. Readers who prefer historical fiction with less extravagant violence may be jolted by the stabbings and gaping wounds, but those who prefer martial adventure and tales of revolution, regardless of genre, will find much here to relish, tremble at, and in the end cheer.
Takeaway: This vigorous retelling of a 13th century Sicilian revolution will dazzle fans of martial historical fiction.
Great for fans of: Ernest K. Gann’s Masada, Bernard Cornwell.
Production grades Cover: B+ Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: A
In this debut historical novel, Treviso tells the story of the Sicilian Vespers, a bloody 13th-century revolt of the Italian people against occupying French Angevin powers.
This tale is told through multiple perspectives but centers on a “maiden turned monster turned myth”—referring to Aetna Vespiri, the daughter of a Sicilian winemaker and knight, as well as to Medusa, the Greek mythological figure who features on the Vespiri family crest and symbolizes the determination of the oppressed to avenge injustice. When Aetna’s father dies at the hands of the Angevin cavalry’s commanding officer, Guy de Rochefort, she becomes set on freeing Sicily from French tyranny. This setup allows Treviso to tell a broader story of how Sicilian freedom and nationhood are won. Major storylines follow a mysterious mercenary in the French forces known as “Brother Devil” or Fra’Diavulu, as well as the Knights of the Teutonic Order, a group of Sicilian knights in exile who are loyal to the deposed Sicilian prince, Conradin. The novel is divided into four main sections, with each one featuring a map of regions relevant to the plot alongside excerpts from key character Don Rapaci’s account of the War of the Vespers. Treviso shows thoroughness and consistency while maintaining a snappy prose style and keeping up momentum with short, suspenseful chapters. The work balances education with action, providing a constant flow of historical facts; it even closes with recipes that feature within the story. The author also crucially highlights the diversity of the Sicilian people and their mixed Norman, Arab, and Greek heritages. Siciliana, her friend and fellow rebel Tziporah, and the French royal vicar Herbert Orleans’ daughter Manon Orleans play major roles throughout the proceedings, and Treviso depicts them all with nuance. Don Rapaci and Fra’Diavulu also have compelling backstories that help to drive the plot forward. The last third of the book offers major twists that will keep readers engaged.
An intriguing work that embodies the ferocity of a woman wronged while contemplating complex questions of home and country.
"An intriguing work that embodies the ferocity of a woman wronged while contemplating complex questions of home and country."