Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 24, 2014

Raised by her aunt and uncle amidst the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, young orphan Virginia Tacci has always harbored a deep love for horses—though she knows she may never have the chance to ride. As a shepherdess in sixteenth-century Italy, Virginia’s possibilities are doubly limited by her peasant class and her gender. Yet while she tends her flock, Virginia is captivated by the daring equestrian feats of the high-spirited Isabella de’ Medici, who rides with the strength and courage of any man, much to the horror of her brother, the tyrannical Granduca Francesco de’ Medici. Inspired, the young shepherdess keeps one dream close to her heart: to race in Siena’s Palio. Twenty-six years after Florence captured Siena, Virginia’s defiance will rally the broken spirit of the Senese people and threaten the pernicious reign of the Granduca. Bringing alive the rich history of one of Tuscany’s most famed cities, this lush, captivating saga draws an illuminating portrait of one girl with an unbreakable spirit.

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After two attempts, I think it safe to say I've a love-hate relationship with Linda Ladderty. The premise of her novels spark my curiosity, but the realities don't sit well on my palate and may indicate a need for greater discretion in the future. I don't mean to sound harsh, I'm actually pretty disappointed, but House of Bathory was hardly the story I'd envisioned when I picked it up and here again, The Shepherdess of Siena failed to impress. 

I pegged the book as a slow starter some forty pages in, things weren't any better by sixty and I officially called code blue on the novel's pacing round about eighty. There is no momentum to this piece… and it centers on a bloody horse race! Call me crazy, but thundering hooves pounding round the piazza shouldn't leave one fighting off the sand man.

The characters were equally uninspiring. I liked Virginia Tacci's struggle against traditional gender roles, but I didn't get much else from the character. I thought Giorgio had potential, but I lost patience with him as soon as he began teaching Virginia to ride and they were only the beginning. How Lafferty made a de’ Medici boring I'll never know, but I couldn't care less about Isabella and found her scenes some of the most mundane of the entire novel. She's in the middle of the action, but as a character, she's downright dull. 

I hate to say it, but I didn’t find the time I spent with The Shepherdess of Siena at all pleasant. The style didn't appeal and there simply wasn't enough to the subject matter to compensate.

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“She has a gift, the horses are never wrong,” Cesare Brunelli said. “they recognize her spirit—a wild spirit like their own.”
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