Traci L. Slatton
2008, Historical Fiction (14th Century [Medieval] Florence [Italy])
Delat Trade, $14.00, 515 pages, Amazon ASIN 0385339747
Immortal is rather a hard book to pigeon hole. The title suggests vampires, but it's not a novel of the paranormal, unless you count the fact that the protagonist ages abnormally slowly, over the course of centuries instead of years. If pressed I would say this is historical fiction because so much of the book centers on the development of art and culture in medieval Florence.
Luca Bastardo does not know where he came from. He has heard rumors that he is the lost son of a noble family who searched for but could not find him. Unfortunately, the respectability of his antecedents does him no good on the streets of 14th century Florence. He is obliged to beg and steal to feed himself, and it isn't long until he finds himself in a worse situation: as an item of commerce in the city's most notorious brothel. His life there becomes a horror, and the only thing that keeps him sane is his love for art and his ability to divorce himself from the abuse by focusing on the beautiful frescoes and paintings he has seen around Florence.
Eventually, however, Luca grows old enough to control his own fate and wrest himself from the evil Bernardo Silvano, the brothel keeper. In doing so, though, he makes a powerful enemy, one who knows his secret of perpetual youth and will do his best to make sure that dangerous people will learn of it too. Luca's life of freedom begins, but he will always be only one step away from the flames reserved for heretics and witches.
Traci Slatton crafts Luca Bastardo's story to highlight the many intersections his life has with the art and culture of his time. Luca is befriended by the artist Giotto and eventually will befriend Leonardo da Vinci as a boy. He learns the skills of a doctor from a Jew and philosophy and science from a German. He becomes enmeshed in Medici politics. Much of what is going on intellectually at that time Luca filters and processes through his ever expanding worldview. He thinks often about God and whether he is good or evil, single or many. He experiences art and architecture as it is being created. Readers who are interested in art history or want a fictionalized but personal view of the great Italian masters will find much to like here. I was not quite so engrossed.
Luca's early experiences are related less graphically and more subtly than they could be, but the brutal molestation and murder of children is difficult to read. It's the middle part of the book, when Luca goes from adventure to adventure, getting to know artists, facing down the Silvano family time and time again, that took the most discipline to read. It was quite repetitive, and Luca doesn't always behave in a very selfless manner when he finally achieves the freedom he craves. He uses a number of people and then moves on to the next job, to the next bed awaiting him.
Luca's constant musing on the nature of God, the God that is out to get him, also grew tiresome. As did the discussion of transmigration of souls, and the conspiracy of the Church against the Cathars who keep secrets as old as humanity itself. It's quite possible Da Vinci Code enthusiasts might like Slatton's fictional fusing of art and conspiracy theory with questionable theology, but, again, I am not that reader.
Ultimately, I couldn't quite see what the point of Immortal. Luca continually talks about his dreams and visions of meeting his true love, but that relationship takes up only a small segment of the novel. The majority of the book is Luca theorizing about the metaphysical, socializing with artists, and fleeing his old enemies, the Silvanos. Cyclically. And that is just not enough to sustain interest over 515 pages of processed tree.
-- Rachel Potter
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