The Stars Compel

Written by Michaela Roessner
Review by Tracey A. Callison

In this sequel to The Stars Dispose, Roessner continues her retelling of the life of Catherine de’ Medici in a story whose characters and prose are sumptuously detailed. The story is viewed primarily through the eyes of Tommaso Arista, a young chef and artist who becomes a member of Caterina’s staff after she is recalled to Rome by her uncle and guardian, Pope Clement. Clement has his own designs for the young heiress regarding the de’ Medici fortune and titles, which involve a betrothal to France as part of his treaty. Caterina is not so easily used, however, and she fights with all of the political savvy and connections in her power to choose her own destiny along with that of her heart’s desire, Ippolito. Joining her in her struggle is Tommaso, who through his connections to the art world and his position as her personal chef serves as her eyes and ears in Rome.

If this sounds dry, believe that it is not, for Roessner truly brings Renaissance Rome and Florence to life with rich historical detail. Tommaso’s calling provides the opportunity for lush descriptions of period cookery (including the workings of a professional kitchen) and art, while Caterina’s connections with the occult place her struggles on a grander scale, as it is not only her life that she is fighting for but freedom for the world from darker forces as well. Connections with the past are explored as Tommaso learns about his family’s secrets, but the theme of breaking with the past in order to face the future is a strong one in this novel as Caterina’s fate moves inexorably towards her.