All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she is a strega–a magic wielder. Teo herself can turn people into decorative objects–which is handy when dealing with the DiSangro’s enemies–but common belief is that they are figures out of fairytales–not real people.
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. They journey together to the capital as Teo struggles to master her powers and keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart.
Yet, 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.
If I could pick three words to describe this book with, it would be “lush,” “conspiratorial,” and “queer.”
Because this book is “lush” in almost every way:
– It’s magic system–with the strega who are going through a time of change as people attempt to exploit their magic and use it for nefarious purposes–fully embodies the word “lush” with the elegant way the magic works and its smooth execution.
– “Lush” in the way that the characters are rich and developed and shaped in a way that you understand who they are outside of a stereotype.
– Family and friendship and romance are all woven together into a “lush” tapestry of personal connections with the characters that make this book wholly relatable on a deeper level.
“Conspiratorial” in many aspects:
– The way that Teodora sneaks around and “conspires” to get what she wants, no matter what means necessary. If it’s through working with another strega or turning her own brother into an owl, she will do what she needs to achieve her goal.
– How secrets, lies, betrayal, and political machinations of the Capo and other players in this game add to the “conspiratorial” nature of this book.
And queer in both of the main characters:
– The romance was so solid and I totally ship Teodora and Cielo together!!!!
– Shape-shifting multi-gendered tutor (aka Cielo) who is literally my favorite with all the swoons. I absolutely love Cielo and there were definitely some spicy moments between Teo and Cielo!
– Also, not in the main characters because in the very last line of the acknowledgements Amy Rose Capetta calls her wife “my very own sexy magic tutor” and if that’s not enough to convince you to read this book, I don’t know what is.
Overall, there’s so much to love with the strong characters and great worldbuilding, but something just didn’t click with me personally.
I don’t really know why, but I was a little bit confused, even at the end of the book, by what happened. I ended up understanding the overarching plot, but the scenes sometimes just didn’t really sink in for me. I’m not sure if this was because some important scenes needed more emotional weight or, alternatively, that I sort of strayed while I was actively reading because some scenes didn’t engage me enough.
If this book rated me as a reader, it would probably only be a 4 or something, because sometimes it feels like I wasn’t paying attention enough, even though I really was trying to obsess over this novel.
In the end, I did end up enjoying both the concept and a lot of the execution, I just feel like it was missing some of that oomph that would have launched this into a higher-than-4-star-read!
This is a really solid fantasy, and I definitely recommend to anyone looking for queer characters, Italian-inspired fantasy, magic, and the girl-disguised-as-a-boy trope!
Thank you so much to Penguin Teen and Bookish First for providing me with an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!
Are you excited for The Brilliant Death? Have you read any of Capetta’s works?