Saturday, November 12, 2011

Secretum by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti. Historical Fiction Novel Review

Polygon, Translation copyright 2009 (First Published in Italian in 2004; English Paperback Edition Published 2010), ISBN 978 1 84597 146 4

Secretum is the sequel to Imprimatur written by wife and husband, Monaldi & Sorti.  Once again, their combined expertise in religions and music enhances the plot of this historical fiction novel.

The young apprentice at the Inn in Imprimatur is now a grown man, with a wife and two young daughters, who works his fields and as a servant for his neighbor, Cardinal Spada.

Curiously, I've read both books and nowhere have I found the name of the former apprentice.  He is the sole narrator of both novels, but other characters never address him by name, calling him "boy", "young man" and other general terms.  Not that this is a detractor, but I just realized this as I type. I have no clue as to the apprentice/servant's name after over 1,200 pages!

After 17 years of silence, Abbot Melani reappears in his former reluctant co-conspirator's bedroom and pays him handsomely to write a memoir of the week. Melani dangles dowries for his daughters to ensnare him.

Like Imprimatur, Secretum is mired in conspiracies that will enormously impact Europe, dependent on the outcomes.  It is July 1700, a year of the Roman Catholic Church's Jubilee and the imminent demise of both the ailing Pope Innocent XII and Charles II of Spain, who has no heir.

Pilgrims invade Rome en masse and corruption among the officials escalates as they take advantage of the hapless pilgrims.

It is also a time of celebration for Cardinal Spada's family; his nephew is to be married and dazzling entertainment and dining is planned for the wedding week.  Abbot Melani is the Cardinal's guest.

Abbot Melani has written a treatise for the eyes of his master, the Sun King of France, which is stolen and the bookbinder who bound the treatise murdered.  Thus begins the story of a bizarre subculture with convoluted rites and language, a madwomen with a prophesy represented by three gifts, a 40 year unrequited love, a musical Dutchman who quotes obscure verses from classic literature, a devious catchpoll, spies, conniving Cardinals angling for the Pope's position and placement of candidates on Spain's throne and a forged signature.

At stake is the future of all of Europe.  Monaldi and Sorti once again utilize their formidable knowledge and writing skills to weave an engrossing, detailed theory of what could have been rather than what is accepted as historical fact.

Secretum is a novel that keeps you on your toes, guessing at clues and producing twists that only make sense in the finale.  I did find I had a harder time tracing the various threads throughout Secretum than I did with Imprimatur.  This fault could lay with me as I had to interrupt the book twice, once for Lionheart (review is on the blog!) on a 2 week library loan and then a book for my book club.  This is  definitely not a historical fiction novel you can pick up and put down.

Rating:  *****(Exceptional)

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