** This review was originally posted at www.teenreads.com – see it HERE**
“Get a man talking, and he will hand you a weapon. Keep him talking, and he will show you where to point it.”
Amy Rose Capetta weaves a captivating tale, full of hidden magic and political intrigue in her newest novel, THE BRILLIANT DEATH.
Teodora DiSangro is her father’s daughter. Even though she can never be head of the family, since she’s a woman, she still uses her hidden magic to turn the families enemies into magical objects.
When The Capo, the newest leader seeking to unite Vinalia, sends poisoned letters to the heads of each of the Five Families, four heads lie dead and Teo’s father nearly so. She must risk everything, traveling to the capital on the heels of Cielo, another strega who can change form, to learn how to not simply disguise herself as a boy, but become one.
As she struggles to master her power, she also struggles with her growing feelings for Cielo. Even though she can’t forget her mission, Teo is tempted by the freedom she finds in finally being able to embrace her true self. Every step closer to finding the antidote, unravels more secrets and lies, and the dark truth of what is really happening to their country. She becomes more determined than ever to save her family.
From the very first pages, we know that we are going to get a magical tale with some darker undertones. Teo learns she has magic when she witnesses her father kill a man in the middle of the night. He sees that she has the heart of a warrior that night, and from then on, she acts on his behalf, using her magic in secret. This is part fairy tale, part Godfather, and I am entirely here for it.
Even though Teo knows who she is, she still has to hide. Partly because the strega are feared, and believed to be nothing more than fairy tales. But also because she’s a woman, and women are expected to behave in certain ways. She pushes the boundaries as far as she can, unhappy with the limits, but unsure how to break free. Until she sees Cielo change from a boy to a girl before her very eyes.
I love how instead of disguising herself as a boy, she simply learns to become a boy. Within this change she finds freedom. Capetta doesn’t limit this freedom to simply being about gender identity. Instead, she broadens Teo’s self-discovery and makes the freedom about finding her true form as a powerful strega. The gender is simply secondary and necessary within the confines of her society. This is a subtle distinction, to be sure, but it is important. Finding who you are within a body is one thing, but changing gender isn’t always, or necessarily, the answer. It’s being true to who she is on the inside, in whatever form. I love that message.
Wrapping this fantasy into a mafia family structure gives this book a unique feel. It’s modern, yet historic. Magical and believable. There are multiple layers to the power dynamic in this country; from the power of the families, societal expectations, the use of magic as power, and then the overall attempt to control and rule a country at large. There is smart dialogue revealing political strategy that makes this far more than a story about magic.
While the love story between Teo and Cielo isn’t subtle, it is woven into the overall plot so well, that this doesn’t feel like a romance story. This is truly about Teo finding herself, who she is and who she wants to be. Cielo simply gives definition to these lines. Instead of feeling like insta-love, this unfolds with a natural progression. A relationship formed out of boundaries, out of waiting for self-awareness before continuing. This is a very healthy message and I delighted in reading their story as it developed.
By the end, Teo is fully formed, in both her abilities as a strega and her desire to be her own person. She isn’t trapped, by limits placed on her by anyone, including herself. She embraces who she is, and that is a beautiful thing. Loving someone else is magical, but loving yourself, well, that’s brilliant. That’s the heart of this novel, making it one you won’t want to miss.
Thank you Teenreads.com and Viking books for sending me a review copy!