Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Innamorati

Midori Snyder
Completed 10/23/2021, Reviewed 10/14/2021
4 stars

I’ve begun a new personal challenge of reading all the Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Award winners.  I’ve already read just over twenty over the years and I have about eighty to go.  This challenge should last me about 2 years or so.  So my blog entries will have mostly fantasy reviews for a while.  The first of this new challenge is a Mythopoeic winner from 2001.  It’s an alternate Renaissance Italy with some interesting magic based on mythology and the Commedia dell’Arte.  Innamorati itself means the lovers, stock characters from the Commedia whose sole purpose was to fall in love and win in the end.  I learned a lot about the Commedia in this very interesting and well written novel.  It was very intriguing and once I got my bearings in the book, was really gripped by it.  

It’s hard to give a plot summary because there are so many characters, but I’ll give it a try.  The story begins with Anna, a mask maker whose masks make the wearer fully embody the characters they represent, like Il Capitano, Pulcinella, and Columbina.  The masks even speak when not being worn.  Anna has been cursed and has not been able to make a new mask for five years.  She and her daughter are now on the brink of poverty.  After a tryst with a local priest, she decides to go to Labirinto, the city of a maze that when traversed supposedly removes the curse.  Besides Anna and her daughter, the guilt-ridden priest, and the man who secretly loves Anna follow her to the maze.  Several others find themselves on the journey there as well, including a stuttering actor, a landlocked silent siren, a street urchin, a lawyer who used to be a poet, his untrustworthy assistant, a prostitute, and a former war hero who now is constantly in duels.  Their paths eventually cross, and all are seeking some sort of relief from the misery of their lives.

The number of characters really had me thrown for a while.  There were so many, but they were all very different.  Except for a few names that were a little too close for comfort, I was able to keep them straight in my head.  The book was written in third person omniscient, which was easier than having so many first-person narrators.  I have a hard time saying which characters I liked the best because they were all so well done.  All of them drew on my empathy, even the untrustworthy assistant to the lawyer.  He was a lying thief and swindler who took advantage of the lawyer, but turned out to be an asset to the street urchin.  Anna’s daughter is also worth noting.  She doesn’t believe she’s been cursed as her mother had been, but she’s shy, bespectacled, plain looking, and sixteen years old with no prospects for marriage.  However, on her journey, she finds understanding and appreciation from the stuttering actor whose impediment seems to originate from his father’s emotional coldness.  

I thought the world-building was terrific.  The magic of the masks and the maze were mesmerizing (see, I alliterated there).  It wasn’t abracadabra magic.  It was a little more subtle and well-integrated.  The introduction of mythology was also well done.  The siren features prominently.  She’s been forced into silence by Orpheus and condemned to live on land.  The goddess Diana, nymphs, satyrs, and centaurs make appearances in the maze.  

I think the most amazing thing about this book is that it was a large ensemble piece where every character received a good amount of attention without making the book huge.  I felt like I got to know them all and they were all believable.  I give this book four stars out of five.  I highly recommend this book if you can find it.  It’s out of print and there’s no e-book version.  I got it from the library the next county over.  Snyder is not that prolific a novel writer, but has written a lot of shorter works and is involved with fantasy literature in other capacities.  

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