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Traci L. Slatton – Immortal

September 29, 2008

118. Immortal by Traci L. Slatton (2008)

Length: 516 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 23 September 2008
Finished: 28 September 2008

I won this book in a raffle at the wonderful J. Kaye’s Book Blog, and read it to participate in the Literate Housewives’ Book Club. If you’ve read it and would like to join the discussion, head on over here.

Two centuries of
the history of Florence
got in its own way.

Summary: Luca Bastardo has seen – and been – it all: street urchin, child prostitute, gravedigger, alchemist, doctor, mercenary, and fisherman. Luca can take all of these roles, because he is not like other people… he ages at a fraction of the rate of other people, is immune to sickness, and is constantly surrounded by rumors of his parentage and by accusations of witchcraft, heresy, and sorcery. Still, he moves through early-Renaissance Florence as best as he is able, meeting and being influenced by the important artists, thinkers, and political figures of the times, searching for the one true love which he has been promised, and always trying to understand himself, his own existence, and the sort of God that would grant him such extended life in the midst of so much suffering and death.

Review: First of all, this book’s strengths: Slatton does a fantastic job evoking fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Florence, from its slums, markets, and back alleys, to its gorgeous churches and the lush palazzos of its upper class. She also presents two hundred years of Florentine history in a more than palatable format, bringing historical figures and events to vivid life. Finally, there were segments of Luca’s story that were intensely compelling and heartbreaking in their poignancy, and the pages just flew by, as I needed to know what would happen to Luca next.

However, I think this book’s main problem is that it let its ambition get in the way of its story. This book wanted to be sweeping and epic, covering nearly two centuries of history, but its strongest bits were those with the narrowest focus and richest details – the years Luca spent in the brothel at the beginning, for example – while the sweeping passage of time and the foreshadowing of events to come were handled a little awkwardly. At times, especially towards the middle/end of the book, it felt as though every three pages Luca would briefly meet another famous historical person, who would impart some vague spiritual wisdom, and then disappear again – the historical fiction form of name-dropping, if you will.

I also thought the philosophical and religious aspects of this book were handled with a similar lack of subtlety. It’s clear that the book aspires to have a deep philosophical level, as witnessed by the extensive discussions about art, alchemy, the nature of the self and of God. However, it’s not the type of book where these ideas are suggested by the text and the reader is left to make their own interpretations and draw their own conclusions. Instead, Luca has made the conclusions for us and proceeds to lay them out, not really leaving a lot of room for discussion or dissension from the reader – a classic example of telling instead of showing. The ending, too, resolves the mystery of Luca’s parentage in a similar way – the mystery is not really solved so much as flat-out explained, which makes it somewhat anticlimactic. In general, I think Immortal had all of the elements of a really good book, and it was still an enjoyable read, even with its flaws, but in the final analysis, it bit off a little more than it could chew, and just wound up getting in its own way. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of historical fiction should find this book enjoyable, if not necessarily world-shakingly phenomenal. I’ll be looking forward to Slatton’s future books – hopefully as she gains experience and confidence as an author, she’ll also learn to trust her story to tell itself.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Traci L. Slatton’s website

Other Reviews: Devourer of Books, Literarily
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: 11 June, 1324 Your grace, I pray you will excuse me for bringing to your attention a matter which may seem, at first, of little import.

Vocab:

  • p. 12: “He had rummaged his chess board and arious pieces of Alquerque and chess from the garbage piles behind palazzi, and had taught us to play, though Paolo didn’t have the wit for them and I preferred to work to earn money for food.” – a board game that is thought to have originated in the Middle East, considered to have been the parent of draughts/checkers.
    .
  • p. 101: “There’s a dividing line between the real and the unreal that braks sometimes and allows the two halves to mix, like fluids in an alchemist’s alembic.” – a vessel with a beaked cap or head, formerly used in distilling.
    .
  • p. 128: ““Just returning from morning minyan,” Sforno answered, striding in.” – the number of persons required by Jewish law to be present to conduct a communal religious service, traditionally a minimum of 10 Jewish males over 13 years of age.
    .
  • p. 152: ““It’s yellow, heavy, brilliant, extensible under the hammer, and has the ability to withstand assaying tests of cupellation and cementation,” he answered.” – A refining process for nonoxidizing metals, such as silver and gold, in which a metallic mixture is oxidized at high temperatures and base metals are separated by absorption into the walls of a a small, cuplike, porous container, usually made of bone ash.
    .
  • p. 171: ““I’m the living embodiment of all ten sefirot, the holy emanations or attributes of God, as all men are, each of us formed like Adam Kadmon in the image of God.”” – the ten attributes that God created through which he can manifest not only in the physical but the metaphysical universe.
    .
  • p. 192: ““He wrote about important medical topics, like the contagious nature of phthisis and tuberculosis, the distribution of diseases by water and soil, and the interaction between psychology and health.”” – pulmonary tuberculosis; consumption.
    .
  • p. 308: ““We can have a rousing game of calcio!”” – an early form of football, played in teams of 27, using both feet and hands.
    .
  • p. 436: “Her long lashes were lowered, making her protean eyes unreadable.” – readily assuming different forms or characters; extremely variable.
    .
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9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2008 1:34 pm

    Nicki, we had many of the same thoughts on this book. I absolutely agree that the beginning – Luca’s life in Silvano’s brothel, was the strongest part of the book. The most difficult to read, but certainly the most compellingly written.

    You energetic thing, you’ve saved me the work of looking up all those unknown words :)

    Looking forward to chatting more about this at Jennifer’s site.

  2. September 29, 2008 3:37 pm

    First of all, I love your haikus!

    This book sounds like it could have been really good…too bad it fell short. Lack of subtlety tends to drive me crazy, and in my experience showing and not telling is a specially bad idea when it comes to these kind of themes.

  3. September 29, 2008 10:48 pm

    Your haiku is wonderful! I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m getting close. I’m going to withhold judgment until it’s done, but I’m feeling a little like you. The Wanderer bothers me for some reason.

  4. Becky permalink
    September 30, 2008 12:23 am

    I was actually looking forward to reading “Immortal”. I just finished reading “Bedlam South,” a great Civil War book, written by David Donaldson and Mark Grisham (scheduled to come out October 7th- got my hands on a copy before its release date!). Anyway, I had been looking forward to reading a new book and am a little disappointed that “Immortal,” fell a little short.

  5. September 30, 2008 2:31 pm

    Shana – I haven’t actually been to the discussion forum since I finished the book… silly me!

    Nymeth – There were definitely parts of it that were quite good, but I really do think it was just too ambitious and tried to do more than the story could reasonably support.

    LiterateHousewife – I liked the Wanderer as a character to randomly show up and pester Luca, it’s only when he starts rambling that he bothers me.

    Becky – Well, I’m not saying don’t give it a try – other people have liked it more than I did, for sure. But, if not, there’re plenty of other new books out there.

  6. October 5, 2008 9:44 am

    When you talk about this book being overly ambitious, I think maybe that’s how I felt about The Heretic’s Daughter (which I’m still eager to hear what you think!!). This does sound really good, though, otherwise–interesting time period!

  7. October 5, 2008 1:38 pm

    Trish – Hmmm, I’ll keep an eye out for that when I get to The Heretic’s Daughter… I don’t know when I’ll get to it, but I’m debating doing the 24-hour read-a-thon, and it seems like it might be a good pick for that.

  8. January 15, 2009 4:31 pm

    I loved this book! It is a excellent story that brought tears to my eyes with its well written words.

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