Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin by Alana White

Title: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin
Author: Alana White

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Italy / Florence / 15th Century / Mystery / Political Thriller / de' Medici /
Publisher/Publication Date: Five Star Publishing (1/9/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In 15th century Florence, a lawyer investigates the mystery of a missing girl, a weeping portrait, and Lorenzo de' Medici's declining popularity.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I mostly do -- I like the Virgin Mary image and the Florentine landscape

I'm reminded of...: Marina Fiorato, S.J. Parris

First line: Guid'Antonio entered Florence Cathedral late that Easter Sunday morning, blinking as the front door closed and the sun lost itself to darkness.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you love political intrigue and/or books set in Italy

Why did I get this book?: I like historicals with less trendy settings, and the Renaissance always interests me

Review: In classic 'it's-me-not-you', I just didn't quite get into this book. It's chock full of historical intrigue, some solid personalities, great sense of place, and a twisty plot that takes in politics, art, loyalty, and the Ottoman Turks -- but it and I didn't click for some reason.

Set in 1480, the story follows Guid'Antonio Vespucci and his nephew, Amerigo Vespucci (yeah, that one), as they return to Florence from a two year ambassadorship to France. Things in Florence are, to put it bluntly, not good: the Pope is gunning for Lorenzo de' Medici, who is the sort of unofficial head of Florence; a local beauty was allegedly kidnapped by roving Turks; a painting of the Virgin Mary has started crying; and Guid'Antonio's personal life is kind of a mess. Guid'Antonio is deeply loyal to Lorenzo de' Medici, even if most of the townspeople and even his own family are turning against the man. The city is in the grip of a famine, and the common people are getting angry. Lorenzo is being blamed for everything from the famine to the weeping painting, and Guid'Antonio is determined to clear Lorenzo's name.

For those who think historical fiction is just romance with corsets, White's novel will correct your misunderstanding. There's no romance to speak of, unless you count our hero's love for Florence and his patron/friend, Lorenzo de' Medici. (And by love, I'm being cutesy, there is no homoerotic longing happening.) In this novel, there's a metric ton of political machinations so those who enjoy political thrillers might like this unique take on corrupt politicians and dark, decadent, decaying urban locales.

I yearned for a cast list for this book, confusing my Antonio with my Amerigo, my Giuliano with my Giovanni. Cousins, brothers, kinsmen a-plenty. It took me a good ninety pages or so to really get into the story -- White crams a lot into the opening chapters to establish the setting of her story -- and other than Guid'Antonio, the rest of the characters aren't immediately notable. Guid'Antonio, however, was immensely interesting. He's complicated, to say the least: a bit cranky, obstinately loyal (to Lorenzo de' Medici, at least), dogged, lonely, confused. 

I can't put my finger on my why I wasn't sucked into this book, but it wasn't for lack of trying on White's part. I plan to revisit this one in the future, perhaps when I'm less mushy-brained from winter. For those who like armchair escape, solid mysteries, and political intrigue -- this is your book!

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 2/22.


  1. I am not so sure that this one would work for me. I need some less intense and more human stuff, instead of intense political intrigue in the historical fiction that I read, and I fear that this one would bore me. It also takes a really good author to distinguish characters when there are so many, with so many similar names. I think Marquez was excellent at this, but it sounds like this author was a little less successful. A very cogent and rational review of a book that was probably not meant for me!

  2. NGL, I don't think I could read this because of title/cover. That's way too religious-looking for me. Goodness, I'm shallow.

    1. Like I said to Charlie, I'm fascinated by the seeming religiosity of the cover -- it totally didn't phase me and I'm usually very sensitive to religious overtones -- ALTHOUGH I grew up Catholic so I wonder if the Virgin Mary imagery is familiar enough I overlooked it. Regardless, this a very non-religious novel.

  3. That you've praised it but talked about not being sucked in, it's hard not to be intrigued! Maybe the cast list was off-putting without you realising? Christina's got a point there, it looks like a Christian book.

    1. I'm really struggling to put my finger on what just didn't work -- unlike The Burn Palace, I wasn't grousing while reading -- but I did notice I'd only do about 70 pages a night rather than my marathon 100s if I'm digging a book. I suppose the prose style? I don't know -- perhaps it was the massive cast.

      It's interesting you and Christina note the sort of religiosity of the cover -- perhaps because I grew up Catholic that imagery is familiar and so it resonates? It doesn't remind me of Christian/inspiration fiction covers so that didn't occur to me -- interesting how I ignored that!

  4. I think the title The Sign of the Weeping Virgin let me know it wasn't going to be particularly religious. I'm not Catholic but that title wouldn't be serious enough were it a Christian-themed book. imo. I really like your fresh approach.

  5. Been hearing a lot about this book. I am trying to read more books in what I call off the beaten track (Tudor's, York's.....you know what I mean?)

    This one sounds interesting. Thanks for the giveaway.

  6. Thank you so much for your nice comment, Margaret. I appreciate it.

  7. Thanks for the review, Audra. I do like political thrillers so maybe this one will work for me. On the other hand, I'm not a fan of the S.J. Parris or Marina Fiorato novels I've read so if this one is similar to them I might be best off to skip it.

  8. Sorry this one didn't quite work for you Audra. I enjoyed it. I agree on the names though. I had a time sorting everyone out sometimes too. The main thing I would have liked is more of a personal side to Guid' Antonio. I know we get a sense of who he is but I wanted more there. I'm interested enough though to continue on in the series.