The Master of Verona

David Blixt,
The Master of Verona
(St. Martin’s Press, 2007)


Finally, five years later, the two sequels to this book have been released!  It’s been so long they came out at the same time, together with the republishing of The Master of Verona as an ebook.  All are available and I cannot wait to dive, FINALLY, into the new material!  However, it has been five years, so first I reread this one.  I can not tell you that even knowing the ending and answers to the mystery, this book loses none of its power.  Best of all, now I can go straight on to Voice of the Falconer without waiting.  Hurrah!

The ambitions and fears of the Italian city-states of the 1300s have become so fierce and entangled that people look toward the stars and prophecies to find the man who can save Italy. Pietro Alighieri knows his father, Dante, believes that man to be Cangrande della Scala, the “Great Hound” who is The Master of Verona; and Pietro is about to meet him.

A wanderer with his exiled father, Pietro never felt the rigors of battle, or realized how far loyalty could push him. Yet, within days of his arrival in Verona he finds himself following others into war and making decisions that will keep him in the thick of it. Unbeknownst to Pietro, other choices will also place him in the midst of one of the most famous conflicts of all time: the feud behind the story of Romeo & Juliet.

Like Shakespeare, Blixt doesn’t just lay down his scenes, he masters them. The pacing is practically flawless, an amazing feat for a debut novel, but perhaps to be expected of a Shakespearian actor and director. Blixt offers each character a moment for sympathy, to be understood, but allows no one’s passion to overpower the momentum of his book. What readers need to know they find out with no confusion or overlong expositions, in defiance of the complicated details of the plot. Blixt also provides a level of intricacy in his combat scenes that gives them an intensity, a vibrancy that’s both rare and spectacular.

From envisioning his historical characters brilliantly and imbuing them with so much strength that readers can feel their presence even after the final page, to refashioning Shakespeare’s famed entities so cleverly that the details seem truly their own, Blixt’s cast demands both attention and emotion. It is not difficult to remember individual personalities in spite of the large number of characters and the varying titles accorded some of them. What is difficult is having to wait for the sequel, The Voice of the Falconer to arrive this fall.

Be wary of thinking a knowledge of Shakespeare will prepare you for all of the twists in store, as this story turns around mystery as well as fate. Moreover, the bard shares the page with Dante’s Inferno and its effects, which inevitably leads to literary analysis. Peppered with literary references, the historical stage of Verona’s golden age remains the prominent theme.  Here politics claim precedence even over love, where Blixt’s book treads rather lightly for a novel inspired by Shakespeare’s most renowned romantic tragedy. A genuine pleasure to read, The Master of Verona takes a city at the height of its power and breathes life through it from Hell to the stars.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David Blixt
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 21:56:23

    Thank you for that lovely, lovely review. Don’t know if it’s good practice to comment, but I’m truly delighted you’re enjoying these books. I am very sorry about the wait, but am so glad it’s over – and you can even go straight on to Fool if you like. If you’re worried about the series ending too soon, don’t be. We have miles to go before we sleep. Though we’ll see if you’re still speaking to me after the next one.



    • wheresmytower
      Jun 11, 2012 @ 23:56:06

      I’m glad to see you here. I always just say what I think of what I read, but when those opinions are good I like to think that it gets back to the writers. I’ve been wondering though, why “voice” of the falconer? Also, I noticed that in Voice of the Falconer’s postscript you provided hints to the new anagrams. Thus, I won’t have to ask for them again at your blog and you, sir, are currently in very good graces.

      I have indeed gone on to Fool, and am far enough to know why it’d throw people. I’m still on board, but I’m sure there will be more things than are presently dreamt of in my philosophy. Yet, I do have an idea what Cangrande’s great secret is, as hinted at in the postscipt.
      Fare thee well!-I have more reading to do. 🙂


  2. David Blixt
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 08:04:47

    “Voice of the Falconer” is a reference to Juliet’s line in the balcony scene – “O, for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel gentle back again.” Originally, these books all had animal names – Il Veltro, Il Falco, La Lonza – but I was told those wouldn’t fly, so I’m opting for variations on Shakespeare’s language.

    Yes, I try to amuse myself (if only myself) with anagrams, as well as making sure there’s at least one period recipe in each book.

    I’m glad to be in your good graces, and especially glad you’re still on board. But yes, it gets far worse. And I’ll be curious to know what you think his grand secret is. So far no one has guessed – not that I want people to! I like surprises. (Now I have to go reread my postscript to see if I’ve given away the game).

    As for what lies ahead, I know precisely what happens for the next three books, and a vague outline for the two after. At that point I could wrap it all up, or else soldier on. We’ll see what surprises lay in the writing. But there’s only one actual Verona book left until the end. We’re leaving its walls after The Prince’s Doom, to travel to parts unknown and untried. But if it’s a comfort, you’ll have Cesco for at least 5 more novels.

    Okay, back to the salt mines. Happy reading!


  3. wheresmytower
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 15:38:40

    Hm-I suppose just the Italian titles would’ve been hard to market, but I think it might’ve worked if they’d had an English subtitle. “Il Veltro: the Master of Verona.”

    Yes, it has gotten worse. I wouldn’t worry about having given away the game-I actually was talking about the postscript and your author’s note on amazon about “Fool’s Fortune”, but I suspected this before, in any case. I’d meant to finish Fortune’s Fool before replying about the secret, to see if there are any other clues for or against my idea. However, that’s taking longer than expected. So, here goes: Cesco is not Cangrande’s son. Cesco is a cousin from some other bastard, and the revelation of his real parenthood would catapult him into a whole other political realm. There are other hints, but my main things are that cousin is the relationship I recall from Shakespeare and the oracle says “Look to your cousins.” Donna Maria strikes me as Celtic and an important lady. If the Count of San Bonifacio could find Pathino, I suspect he also knows at least some part of the real lineage of Cesco.

    I am very glad to know Cesco will be around for awhile; thank you. Good luck in those mines. Pay attention to the canaries!


  4. David Blixt
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 23:54:07

    Not bad at all! I won’t confirm yea or nay, but you’re certainly looking at the right clues. I cannot tell you how wonderful and heartening it is to have someone reading so closely and carefully. Thank you. Hope Fool offers some relief before the end.


    • wheresmytower
      Jun 20, 2012 @ 04:06:01

      Spoiler: I think the thing I was most relieved about was that Benedick’s back on his way to horses and glory.

      Also, that I was right about it feeling like the middle of a trilogy! That was the first thing that came to mind when I closed it and automatically wondered what to say in the review. That just makes everything make more sense to me. When in 2013 is that Prince’s Doom happening, anyway? I need it to be soon so I can stop worrying about it turning into another long wait. In any case, I’m glad to know I’ll have your series to read for many years to come. Thank you for putting that much research into them. (Do we get to visit Messina and yet another Beatrice later on?)


      • David Blixt
        Jun 20, 2012 @ 10:27:04

        Spoiler: Then you’ll be relieved to hear that, after teasing him for three novels, Benedick joins our merry band in the next book. (And yes, there is a planned visit to Messina someday – though perhaps only in a short story. But you’ll meet Beatrice before then). Have you read Varnish’d Faces yet?

        I just read your review (thank you), and you’ve certainly hit the theme – isolation. I was also working to begin broadening our canvas – France now, in anticipation of more countries later. But the next book is all Italy – the last of its kind for quite awhile, alas.

        I’m sad to hear the action palled – I’d hoped that the midnight chase, the melee, the bridge, and the final drama would be enough to quicken the blood. But yes, this book was meant to be dark and lonely – with a single spark of an exception. But the series is called Star-Cross’d for a reason.

        I’m hoping for a similar release date as this year, but we’ll see how the writing goes. I want to finish 7 novels by this time next year. All but one are in various stages of completion, so it’s not as ambitious as it sounds. But by the end of 2013, my goal is to have 12 novels on Kindle.

        I’m enjoying this conversation immensely. Thank you for your appreciation of my scribbling.


  5. wheresmytower
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:28:51

    Yay, Benedick! I’m glad about Messina. I didn’t expect the main parts of Much Ado after Boraccio’s tale, but I just really like it there. I read the short story about Anthony going to Bianca’s wedding and meeting Giotto. I have not read the other short stories, yet.

    The thing about the action is that while it did offer a lot of excitement, it is being compared to the level of adventure in your other books. No matter how it rates among other historical fiction novels, as a sequel that’s the standard to use for it. And compared to you, it’s much slower. Also, just to clarify, when I wrote about an edge of sweetness I didn’t mean I wished things were more positive for anyone. (Though the eye things did get to me…) It is called Star-Cross’d and I love those tragic novels, too. You’re just so good at writing symbolism and creating images. The first two books both had endings grounded in these things-that gave them an air of quietness, like pausing for a breath before plunging back in. I love those endings so much, I just wished there was a moment like that for the end of Fool-possibly with Katherina and Cangrande rubbing things in each other’s faces, that’s always fun. In any case, as I said, I enjoyed it very much. I just wish the next one was coming out sooner. After all, I gave in and acquired a kindle just for your books because they weren’t coming out elsewhere and I dislike reading whole novels on my computer. 🙂

    I always wonder how you get so much done in such a short time! It sounds very ambitious to me, still, and I’m glad of it. I haven’t decided yet what direction of yours to look into next. Also, I was wondering, are you still writing a series centering on Othello? I thought you mentioned that awhile ago.


    • David Blixt
      Jun 20, 2012 @ 18:01:36

      I’m honored and flattered that you picked up a Kindle just for these! Thank you so much. I, too, dislike reading whole novels on computers. Even my own.

      Please don’t think I was taking offense. You’re absolutely right, the ending is far more abrupt than I usually like. It felt incomplete when I wrote it, and I can’t tell you how hard it was not to write more, to end on a held breath. For the first two I had an epilogue that started the wheels turning for the next novel. But I decided to leave it raw here, with no closure, only an open wound. In short, I wanted the reader to experience the chasm that faces Cesco. Not sure how artfully I did it – as always, Dorothy Dunnett did it better! But that was the goal. It allows me a shocking start to the next novel. Never fear, there’s plenty of Cangrande and Katerina to come. And the end of Doom is a very, very solid ending.

      Part of the reason I’m able to get so much of this done so “quickly” is that I started writing all this 12 years ago. The moment I finish Doom, that’s when I hit new territory. I’ve done the research, but not a page of that novel is written yet. What generally happens is that I write these massive tomes, then get told to break them up. For Falconer, I was given a hard word limit that was about half of what I had, so I cut the novel I’d written into thirds and expanded each of them out to meet the limit. And they’re still huge novels. It happened for Star-Cross’d, it happened for Colossus. Hell, I have most of the next four Colossus novels done already. The good news is, I’m able to tell an even grander story, I’m not racing past things like Avignon or Federigo – neither of which were in the original tale.

      Ah, the Othello novels. Yes, I still want to write them. I know the outline, I know the history. I simply haven’t found the voice. Because the way I’ve structured it, these are first person novels. And I don’t have the voice down yet. I need to spend more time with that play. I’ve only ever done it the once, and obviously I’ve never played him. So finding his voice is the key. But that’s still in the hopper. I’m also 1/3rd of the way through a Tudor / Noir / Have Sword, Will Travel book that I’m enjoying. I’m getting some loving pressure from friends and readers for a sequel to Her Majesty’s Will. And when all of that is done, there are some Greek myths I’d like to tackle.

      We’ll see how long it takes to wrap up Verona. Don’t want to rush it. I love these people. And there is even a happy ending for a couple of them!


  6. wheresmytower
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 19:33:40

    Poor Cesco. Spoilers: Admittedly, more of my sympathy is reserved for Lia. It’d be hard to get more publicly ruined, betraying her father for a Scaliger won’t help him accept her back, and the other future prospect she has is an old, uncouth neighbor. At least Detto will stand her friend. I’m hoping the official cover story will be that, unknown to her, she’s been betrothed to someone in England for years. Then Pietro will escort her over and she can stay with Montague to cancel out more of his debt. Probably her brother could go too for appearances sake and bond with Pietro, who’ll find himself defending Cangrande again. I think about things.

    I always trusted you to have a shocking beginning to equal that twist, and to end this three-pieced work with a solid ending. A Tudor Noir novel sounds like a lot of fun! Good luck with all those projects, though! If I had to guess I’d say your favorite Greek myth would be Icarus? (In my head Daedelus later goes crazy and begins trying to build a more complicated labyrinth that will play with time and logic and bring back his lost son. That labyrinth traps him inside it and as his hopes grow it expands on its own into a Wonderland. Daedelus is, of course, the Mad Hatter. One day Icarus will fall down the hole to that world and the world will end-Daedelus will be happy with his son, dead, alive again, nonexistent, or somewhere in world limbo.)


    • David Blixt
      Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:49:10

      The very first response I got was from a friend who wanted me to write Lia her own book.

      Minor spoiler – You clearly think about things! What a lovely plan. And you’re right, Montague comes more into prominence in Doom.

      Icarus, and Prometheus. But I have something in mind more along the lines of The King Must Die and The Song Of Troy. Just – bigger.

      I love your blending of stories! That kind of thing makes me eternally happy.


      • wheresmytower
        Jun 21, 2012 @ 21:40:22

        Thank you for making Varnish’d Faces free today! I’d read the wedding story and Orsini’s disillusionment earlier, but it’s nice to be able to return to them now! Giotto makes a wonderful character. Dante’s harassment amused me greatly. I like to think that by the time he was 8 part of Cesco’s sleepless nights were spent over Dante’s bed, whispering phrases Cesco wrote and wanted to appear in the work. Began as an experiment, began to work, abruptly became known when Dante caught him at the age of 11. Yep, that sounds about right.

        It was intriguing to see more of San Bonifacio’s story. I particularly liked the flashback to his childhood. However, as I recall in MoV San Bonifacio has moments of wondering what quality Cangrande has to keep people in such thrall and only understanding that he has a streak of immortality during the charge. It was odd to read that Bonifacio understood about the immortality element on the morning of that battle, as well. I also liked getting to see Ponzoni in a more favorable light.

        Do Beatrice and Kate ever get to face off? The thought makes me smile. Also, if you’re going to write about Thesus, does that mean there will be Midsummer characters involved? One of my favorite acting roles was Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”


  7. Leonard Marks
    Jul 17, 2012 @ 21:46:40

    great post


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