Damiano’s Lute: Failed to engage me

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Damiano’s Lute by R.A. MacAvoy fantasy book reviewsDamiano’s Lute by R.A. MacAvoy

Damiano’s Lute is the second book in R.A. MacAvoy’s DAMIANO trilogy, which takes place in Renaissance Italy. In the first book, Damiano, we met a young man named Damiano Delstrego who was feeling befuddled because he was both a witch and a Christian. He had left his village with his lute and his talking dog. He had several encounters with the archangel Rafael, who acts as a sort of patron to Damiano and taught him to play the lute. Satan also seems particularly interested in Damiano’s life. At the end of the first book, Damiano has renounced his magic and his talking dog has died, leaving the young man bereft and lonely.

In Damiano’s Lute, Damiano is roaming the French countryside with a young man named Gaspare who has recognized Damiano’s amazing talent with the lute (due to Raphael’s training) and who has named himself Damiano’s manager. The boys are starving, but hope to make money when people discover Damiano’s beautiful music. Gaspare is also anxious to find his sister. She’s a prostitute, and he doesn’t think much of her, but he loves her because she’s the only family he has left.

Unfortunately, plague has come to Europe, laying waste to their plans and also to the population of France. Along with a lack of money and the fear of plague, Damiano has to deal with his relationship with Saara the shape-shifting witch, his own magical talent, and the state of his soul. Once again, Raphael and Satan are there to put in a few words of their own.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that I wasn’t entertained by the plot, but I admired the prose so much that I enjoyed reading the book anyway. Regrettably, I liked both the plot and the prose less in Damiano’s Lute. The plot is fairly dull and mostly involves watching Damiano brood while travelling through France. I suspect MacAvoy is hoping that you’ll like her characters enough to enjoy travelling with them and listening to them talk to each other, but I don’t. Damiano is kind of emo and Gaspare is an insufferable boor. Both are sullen and humorless most of the time. I also didn’t find myself enjoying the prose this time. Mostly it felt distant and unengaging, much like the characters, though I did like the parts when Damiano is thinking or talking about the power of music. I loved that Pope Innocent compared his own soul to a bad lute that can make beautiful music in the hands of the right player.

The ending of Damiano’s Lute is surprising and I think many readers will find it touching. I found it mostly incomprehensible, meaning that I didn’t think what Damiano did in the end fit with the rest of his personality and history. MacAvoy chose to make him a hero, but I had a hard time believing it.

I listened to Nicholas Tecosky narrate Audible Studio’s version of Damiano’s Lute which is 10 hours long. I like Tecosky’s voices, but I think he struggled to make this story compelling. The reading often felt stilted, choppy, and dry, but I’m not sure that anyone else could have done it better.

If you want to read something by R.A. MacAvoy, I’d recommend her LENS OF THE WORLD TRILOGY over this one. I liked it much better. I haven’t yet read her more popular Tea with the Black Dragon, but I will.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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4 comments

  1. This was almost exactly my reaction to the second book, too. I find the only book of hers I still look back on with great affection is TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON. Even the sequel to that felt flat and kind of bitter.

  2. Tea with the Black Dragon left me completely cold when I tried to read it many years ago. I think I DNF’d it. I should give it a try again, though; I’ve found my tastes have changed a fair amount over the years.

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