In 1723, Pia of the Tolomei was to be given a husband on the night before the Palio, a famous horse race that is of great import to the city of Siena. Her betrothed, an evil man, loses his life in the race. An unknown horseman, Riccardo Bruni, tries to save him but fails. Pia is ridden with guilt because she had prayed for her betrothed’s death, and also relief, until she discovers she is still a pawn in the game of matrimony- she is to wed her dead husband’s brother, Nello, who is equally evil.
There are two levels to this plot; the conflict between Nello’s family, of the Eagle Contrada, and the behind the scenes plotting against the Governess of Siena, Violante de’ Medici, who is considered an outsider and is unwelcome by the city folk who have governed themselves for centuries. There are warring factions within the city that create chaos and even murder, which was quite disturbing. One finds oneself hoping that Violante can remain and change the laws to dampen the conflicts between the contradas.
This book drew me in and held my focus. The characters are well crafted and endear the reader to their plight. The plot is knit together very well. I found myself on the edge of my seat, rooting for Pia and Riccardo, and hoping she would rescued from her fate and be able to find happiness with him.
The author, Marina Fiorato, did a wonderful job of pulling this complicated plot together. It is rich in detail. I enjoyed learning about the Palio and the different contradas, and I appreciated the knowledge of horsemanship that I did not know. The author was able to explain these details without bogging down the plot. I really enjoyed this book.