Francesco de Romena is a knight and count. His father, who died in ignominy and rightfully so, murdered his brothers. His other family members seek to destroy the power and the wealth of the one remaining de Romena. Francesco’s life is fraught with danger, filled with battles and lost loves, and marked by distrust and political intrigue.
Ekström describes the brutality of this place in unremitting detail. She does not mince words about the back-stabbing, the lack of true loyalty, the stench of death all around these people. For all the power that he wields, or may wield if he succeeds in his quest to restore the de Romenas to their legacy, Francesco is a young man desperately at odds with himself as well as his family, his peers, and his church.
The research that Ekström has done is superb. The terror of being one of the powerful in fourteenth-century Florence is palpable. Unfortunately, because this is also a family saga, there are so many branches of the de Romenas— the Porcianos, the Albertis, one Bishop, another abate—that the reader can become overwhelmed. How to keep these folks apart and distinguishable is not a simple task. Also, it isn’t clear whether all these people contribute much to the development of character or plot. Add to this genealogical nightmare the myriad romantic and sexual involvements that Francesco has with a number of women in the book. After a while, I had a hard time remembering which woman he loved and which he used or why it mattered at all.
But for a real taste of what fourteenth century Italian politics was like, I cannot imagine a better place to start than here.