The Scribe of Siena is the final book I have to review for Simon & Schuster's Timeless Tour. It's been so much fun! I have one final post for you next Friday. I know nothing of Siena, other than it's in Italy. I also don't know much about the Black Plague, or any plague, really. So, because of all that, I was intrigued by Melodie Winawer's debut novel.
Here's the synopsis:
Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.I used to read time travel books quite a bit when I was a kid (no, I still haven't read Outlander!) so I liked the idea of a contemporary character making her way back to the 1300s. The time travel element set The Scribe of Siena apart from a lot of the other historical novels I've read recently (and not just for this tour...2017 is apparently the Year of Historical Fiction). I didn't know when Beatrice was going to go back in time. Was it going to be during a surgery she was performing? When she was having one of her "empathy" moments? (Side note...what was actually up with those moments? I found those harder to believe than the time travel.) I also didn't know when she would go back to present day. Or if she even would. The time travel really kept me in suspense.
After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.
Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.
The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.
I think the biggest problem I had with this novel was the sheer amount of detail included. I think it was a case of Winawer trying to fit too much research into one novel when the story didn't necessarily warrant it. I also found there were too many characters. It wasn't a matter of not being able to keep track of who was telling the part of the story, that was fairly well done. Beatrice's part was told in first person while the (many) others' were in third person. The issue was more that I didn't understand why some characters really had to have their part of the story shared. In particular, it wasn't until about halfway through the book that I realized why the young priest, Bartolomeo, may be important to the overall story. He had already had some, small, parts of the story dedicated to his POV but once the (very small) revelation was made, he's not mentioned again until close to the end of the novel. He does play a part at the end but not enough to warrant him taking up character space in my brain.
There were three main reasons I kept reading this novel (other than, you know, for the blog tour). The conspiracy - whatever Ben had found out about why Siena was hit so hard during the plague - was quite compelling. I'm also a sucker for a Happily Ever After and really hoped I would get one (though hoping for a character to stay in the past to get said HAE is a weird feeling). Finally, the scribe part of the story was so interesting.
One of the best things about reading The Scribe of Siena is it has made me much more interested in Italian history. It's one (of many) places I've never been but I'd love to visit Siena now and see in person the town Melodie Winawer described in such detail. It seems that I'm in the minority with other readers who received various advance copies of this novel as many Goodreads reviewers thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel. I liked it but expected to enjoy it a heck of a lot more.
*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for a review for the purpose of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*