Book Reviews

Medici ~ Ascendancy: 1 (Masters of Florence)

You would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting time in history than the many years the Medici were in power. Matteo Strukul’s fast-paced novel matches the urgency of the times, keeping the reader feverishly page-turning. I actually missed my stop at the train station reading it!

The book opens with the death of Giovanni de Medici in 1429. His sons Cosimo and Lorenzo must now step up and carry the Medici through the violence, plotting, and desperate struggle for power the family endures, set against the stunning city of Florence.

Florence is a major character in the book, its presence threaded beautifully through the pages by Strukul. I was lucky enough to spend a month there two years ago, and the city made an impression on me like no other. Enhanced by Strukul’s atmospheric descriptions, vivid in my mind were images of Brunelleschi’s Dome rising like the moon from cobbled streets, and the imposing Palazzo della Signoria. It was wonderful to read about the seemingly impossible construction of the Dome, and indeed to encounter the tunnel-visioned Brunelleschi himself.

I enjoyed the variety of perspectives the book brings us. Although it’s focused on Cosimo, we also get to see inside into the thoughts of Laura Ricci, Reinhardt Schwartz, and Cosimo’s brother Lorenzo. Laura was a character who especially touched me. Although she is an enemy of the Medici, her villainy is nuanced. With a heartbreaking backstory, Laura hardens her heart and turns the few advantages she’s been given in life to her favour. Strukul injects such pathos into her and Schwartz’s story that we are compelled to sympathise with them.

Perhaps the most heartwarming bond between characters is the one between Cosimo and Lorenzo. Utterly and unquestionably loyal, they stick together through everything; and everything, they endure together.

I absolutely loved this book. It is translated by Richard McKenna, and reads wonderfully. I hope that one day when my Italian skills have progressed far enough, I may read it in its original language.