Damiano: Historical fantasy set in Renaissance Italy

Damiano by R.A. MacAvoy fantasy book reviewsDamiano by R.A. MacAvoy

Young Damiano Delstrego is now the head of his house after his father, a witch, was killed when a spell went horribly wrong. Damiano is also a musician, an alchemist, and a witch, but he’s a good Christian, too, and he tries to use his powers only for good. That’s why he refused to help the army who came to take over his town, though they offered him riches. Instead, Damiano decides to follow the townsfolk who’ve fled for the hills. He wants to warn them that the army plans to find and plunder them. He’s particularly worried about Carla, the girl he has a crush on. He also wants to seek the aid of a powerful sorceress.

So, with an Italian medieval village behind him and the towering Alps ahead, Damiano sets off in the snow with his lute and his beloved talking dog, Macchiata. Along the way, Damiano has a few mishaps, witnesses brutal deeds done by Roman soldiers, gets some inspiration from the archangel Rafael, finds out some uncomfortable facts about his father, and is offered a deal by the devil. He also learns that there’s more to life than his dog, his lute, and Carla.

Damiano is the first volume of R.A. MacAvoy’s DAMIANO trilogy, a historical fantasy set in Renaissance Italy. MacAvoy’s prose is lovely and she makes the most of her setting, with allusions to real historical people, events, religious beliefs, literature, and art. The story takes place in winter and all the brutal events that Damiano witnesses seem especially vile when set against the whiteness of the winter alpine landscape.

I didn’t love the plot as much as I loved the writing and the setting, but this is more of a personal preference rather than any problem with the plot itself. Though it depicts some ugly events, Damiano, his talking dog, and the beautiful angel were a little too sweetly innocent for me. The main focus is Damiano’s struggle with his desire to use his powers for good and his discovery that sometimes it’s hard to know what’s right and wrong. He’s also worried about his soul because Satan has informed him that, since he’s a witch, he’s automatically damned. I didn’t find this to be riveting subject matter, but I thought the excellent writing made up for it.

Though the DAMIANO books were marketed to adults, I think this coming of age story will be appealing to teenagers, and it’s certainly written more beautifully than most YA fantasy is. It’s so lovely, in fact, that I plan to try the second book, Damiano’s Lute. This story has plenty of potential. I’m listening to Audible Frontiers’ version and am very pleased with Nicholas Tecosky’s narration.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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