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Portals And Plot Holes

Time travel to medieval Italy? What could go wrong?

Portals And Plot Holes

BOOK REPORT for The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

Cover Story: Like An Effing Adult
BFF Charm: Meh
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Anachronistic
Bonus Factors: Medieval Italy, Time Travel
Relationship Status: Left Behind

Cover Story: Like An Effing Adult

This cover is so freaking appealing. In person, it’s metallic and textured, too. From the architecture to the medieval painting to the gilded stars, this is total Jennie-bait. If I were in a desert of terrible covers (and sometimes it feels like it), I would die reaching for this oasis. Why can’t all covers be like this? (Or, perhaps more realistically, why can’t there be medieval YA fiction with covers like this?)

The Deal:

Beatrice Trovato, a successful thirty-something neurosurgeon with a curious aptitude for empathy, is grieving the sudden death of her older brother. A single scholar living in Siena, her brother leaves behind historical research that’s getting all the wrong kinds of attention.

When Beatrice flies to Siena to settle Ben’s affairs, she’s both charmed by the city, and also feels compelled to finish her brother’s research. After taking a leave of absence from the hospital, she comes back to Siena with renewed vigor. She’ll just complete the work that Ben left behind, and go back to New York City.

Of course, things are never that simple, especially when her research guides her to the work of a little-known painter of frescoes. Beatrice is swept up in this man’s diaries, but when she goes to see his work in person, she’s startled to recognize her own face. Before long, she finds herself time traveling to 1347—which is during the lifetime of the painter, but also just before the devastating plague comes to Siena. What is she supposed to do now?

BFF Charm: Meh

Beatrice is smart and ambitious, but I hate how she treats her friends in the present day. Yes, she’s grieving, but even interactions with her new friend in Siena read like a script from The Beatrice Show. It’s all about how she feels, how she interacts, what people can do for her and how they make her feel, how she’s doing her brother’s memory a service by finishing his research…for someone who has empathy that can literally put her in another’s thoughts and feelings, she’s remarkably dense. It’s no surprise that she can up and leave the country without anyone worrying too much.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Here’s where the book—don’t get me wrong, it’s well-researched and an interesting premise—really does not live up to the “Italian Outlander” comparisons. As problematic as Outlander can be, the romance was smokin’, and the reader can really invest in Jamie and Claire’s relationship beyond the physical. Beatrice and Gabriele, though? Not so much. (Insert jokes about books and plot climaxes here.) I have no idea why they like each other, except that Gabriele is talented and has a great family.

Talky Talk: Anachronistic

Okay, people. I can suspend a lot of disbelief for a good story, but I have to lay a rant upon you, and I hope you’ll forgive me:

You, a layperson, are not going to travel seven hundred years into medieval Europe and be able to communicate with folks easily. I don’t care how good your English/French/German/Italian/etc is. Look how much English has changed in just five hundred years. Now imagine you’re speaking modern Italian, your second language, to people who learned the language seven hundred years ago. No. Languages change. Dialects change. This is to say nothing of the fact that she gets a job as a scribe. The same issues apply.

While (I hope) you’re nodding your head in agreement, let me also note that Beatrice TAKES ITEMS OUT OF THE ARCHIVES. Twice. THAT IS NOT DONE. YOU ARE NOT TAKING CENTURIES-OLD ITEMS FROM AN ARCHIVE! IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!

*twitches*

I don’t want you to think that this book is without merit, because aside from everything I just told you, it is enjoyable. Beatrice as a super-empathetic neurosurgeon was fascinating, and it’s clear that the author is incredibly educated. (Neuroscientist, polyglot, multiple other degrees…I bow down in that regard!) I just wish her editor had helped fix the flaws in the narrative, and Winawer had upped the romantic quotient. There’s a disconnect between the plot, which is interesting, and the emotional aspect of the book, which is lacking.

I just really wanted to love this book.

Bonus Factor: Medieval Italy

I love medieval (and especially Renaissance) Italy. I mean, aside from the plague, the treatment of women, the lack of sanitation, and all the other issues that come along with a lack of science and wisdom. I think it makes what they did accomplish so much more poignant.

Bonus Factor: Time Travel

I haven’t met a time travel book that I won’t at least pick up and start reading. All of those issues I just complained about are important for a strong narrative, yes, and I would only time travel myself if I could go for a few hours at a time (god, I love running water)…but I’m a history nerd. This stuff is like candy to me. To be able to personally witness some of the world’s most incredible events? I would faint of pure nerd joy.

Casting Call:

Aidan Turner as Gabriele Accorsi

As if I'm going to turn down the chance to look at Aidan Turner. Sure, Gabriele's hair is supposed to be silver, but...details. Let's reward ourselves. (If Gabriele looked like this, yeah, I would totally get it.)

Relationship Status: Left Behind

I agreed to go on this book date because it had everything I love: art, time travel, a hot, talented love interest, and medieval Europe…plus, it was all wrapped up in a gorgeous package. Dammit, book, why did you have to let me down? You’re friend material, but I wanted to fall in love. You’re going to have to be left behind in my past.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Simon & Schuster. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one. The Scribe of Siena is available now.

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.