Friday, February 15, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin by Alana White

I’ve just returned from fifteenth century Florence–and what a trip it was!

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin is a new release by Alana White. It’s a detective story at its heart, but steeped in political intrigue and immersed in the historical context. It makes for an altogether fascinating read.

Guid’Antonio Vespucci is the hero of the book. A well-respected Florentine lawyer, one of the wealthy and powerful men of the ruling class, Guid’Antonio has just returned to his city after two years in France where he served as ambassador. Florence had been at war with the pope and needed allies. Technically the war is now ended; however, Guid’Antonio soon learns that the pope is not satisfied. He has yet to lift the sentence of excommunication that has been placed upon all of Florence for the crime of supporting their unofficial, unelected leader: Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Fifteenth century Italian politics are a tangled web for the uninitiated, but Alana White is able to carve a clean path through the maze of conflicting interests to bring out what is important to her story, using the focus of Guid’Antonio’s particular mission. With the mystery as a focal point, everything else falls into place.

Guid’Antonio returns to a city in an uproar. A beautiful young Florentine girl has recently been abducted just outside of the city and Turks are supposedly to blame. Guid’Antonio is quite certain there are no Turks in Italy, but the common people have heard the story of her abduction and believe that she has been sold into slavery. It is God’s wrath that brought the Turks so close to Florence and who knows who will be next to suffer?

To emphasize the point, a centuries old painting of the Virgin Mary in Guid’Antonio’s own family church has suddenly begun to weep. Copious tears have been seen to flow from the Virgin’s eyes. Awed pilgrims flock to the church to give alms and pray at the foot of the miraculous painting. Mary weeping is an additional sign that God is unhappy with Florence.

And why? They have disobeyed the pope. They have supported Lorenzo de’Medici. The tide of public support has turned against him. The crowded streets have grown ugly and dangerous.

Guid’Antonio, a longtime friend and loyal supporter of Lorenzo, is tasked with solving the mystery behind the abducted young woman and the weeping painting.

The novel takes us deep into the heart of Florence, introducing us to such luminaries as Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Guid’Antonio is a fascinating character himself: handsome, thoughtful, intelligent, loyal to his friends, his wife, his family and to Florence–and it's easy to pull for him as we watch him struggle with the tensions that inevitably arise because of all his various commitments. There is much more to this intricately crafted novel than the mystery. I came away from it feeling as though I had met real people and that I had discovered a good deal about Florence. I hope Guid’Antonio will be returning to serve Lorenzo de’Medici another good turn in a second book!


I've read this for the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry. Join in the challenge and find some great historical fiction!