They say it started with a fool’s jest. That’s what they say, anyway, about the centuries’ long feud between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Tinney Heath takes us back to the murky origins of the feud in A Thing Done.
It’s not Corrado’s fault. He was at the feast celebrating a new knight getting his spurs when one of the lords pays him to steal a plate of meat from a rival. The hotheaded rival reacts with insults, then cuts the man who paid Corrado. To Florentines in 1215, this is a mortal insult to their honor. The only way Oddo—the instigator—will make peace is if Boundelmonte—his victim—marries his shrewish niece. Not only does Boundelmonte not want to marry this woman because of her reputed temper, he’s already promised to another. So, Boundelmonte compounds the insult by marrying his betrothed by marrying her on the same day he was supposed to marry Oddo’s niece. Oddo’s family swears a vendetta against Boundelmonte in retaliation. Then, as vendetta tend to do, murder follows murder and the factions become more entrenched.
All this is narrated by Corrado the Fool. Oddo and Boundelmonte both find it convenient to use the fool to run errands and pass messages, much to Corrado’s vexation. A couple of times in the book, various parties hold him hostage in their palaces because he knows too damned much. Meanwhile, Corrado’s relationships are falling apart around him because he keeps getting caught up in the business of “people with surnames”—the nobility.
It did bother me that Heath’s protagonist, Corrado, keeps overhearing important conversations and being drafted into messenger duty. It felt forced at times. This book might have been even better if Heath had used a few more narrators, ones that would have been more believable in the situations Corrado ends up. After the first few times, you start to wonder—like Corrado does—”Why him?”
What really makes Heath’s book more than just a novel of a medieval vendetta is the rich detail that she builds into her descriptions. She writes about the clothing and the food and the sights and smells of thirteenth century Florence. I had to run to Wikipedia a few times to look up the names of obscure instruments and customs to figure out what Heath was talking about, but that’s a plus for a word nerd like me.
I received a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher.