Theodora di Sangro is the daughter of a mafia don. When her father is poisoned, Theo travels to the capital city to find who poisoned her father, and to find the antidote. When she arrives, however, she realizes hiding her unique power may not be necessary.
Why this book?: A friend said I would enjoy it, and I trust them.
I would like to thank that friend and Bookish First for sending me copies in exchange for an honest review.
It took me a while to get into The Brilliant Death, and it’s hard to explain why. I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it when I originally started it, but at the same time, it started off weird. You’re introduced to Theo with her power, and her relationship to her father–which ends up being imperative to the storyline. The reader gets the feeling that Theo’s relationship to her father is important, even though the father himself may not be important. It was an odd feeling, but it worked really well.
The strongest part of The Brilliant Death was probably the characters. You meet Theo and her father right away, just as I mentioned above. I really enjoyed Theo, and actually related a lot to her. Something about her just felt so, so like me, and I loved reading the story in her eyes. I loved when Cielo was introduced. Cielo was all over the place, but they were so expressive and once you got to know them well, including their backstory, I couldn’t help but love them. I also really enjoyed Theo’s brother Luca, and the antagonist. Every character was well developed–the reader was given characters, and you got to see their motivations and their loves and hates, and it just felt so intimate.
Despite loving the characters, I couldn’t really tell where the plot was going. At one point the goal was to find the poison antidote and to save her father, another moment the goal was to kill the Capo, and another moment the goal changed again. And it wasn’t like these other goals were to achieve the first one–no, after a certain point, the characters just suddenly start focusing to do this one thing for no reason, and completely ignore the previous goal when they have an opportunity to achieve it. While I enjoyed reading where the story was going, it was difficult to keep track of the ‘why’.
I at first didn’t see where the queerness came into this story. However, it comes in fairly quickly after Cielo is introduced. Cielo’s pronouns and presentation change whenever they want them to, and they use their magic to give themself a body that fits their mood. It was really interesting, and though I recognize that lots of people’s gender may be like this, I thought it was interesting that the genderfluidity never once mentioned the possibility of never falling within the binary. Though I use they/them pronouns for Cielo in this review, they only use he or she pronouns during the novel. Since they’re constantly changing back and forth, I chose to keep it neutral for them. Theo’s gender is similar, though she is more questioning rather than fluid. She spends chunks of the book as male or female, but generally identifies as female or female-aligned. I kind of wish that this discussion of gender brought up being neither male or female, but these two characters only switched between these two genders. I personally don’t see this as a big problem, especially because Capetta identifies as a demigirl (correct me if I’m wrong).
Final Rating: ★★★★☆
I was told I would probably like this book, and the friend who said that was correct. I loved the characters, even though I struggled with the plot, and found the representation of gender interesting. I can’t wait for the second book, The Storm of Life, especially because of how the first book ended.
Would I Recommend?
If you prefer plot-driven books, then maybe skip this one. This book was largely character-driven, and if you don’t expect that then it may come as a disappointment. However, I did greatly enjoy the characters, and the representation that this book provided.
Published: October 30th, 2018
Page Count: 352
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Synopsis: via Goodreads
For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.
All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.
Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.
Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.
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