The Tyrant of Siena is one of Jude Mahoney’s series of action-packed historical novels called The Heroes of Florence. The hero in this case is Giovanni Lascorza, the wayward son of one of Florence’s most prominent citizens. As the curtain rises in 1483, he’s booted from the seminary where he’s been sent to reform his lustful ways for smuggling a prostitute into his cell. Unrepentant, he continues his renegade behavior. Then word comes that his father is near death, and between his conscience for his family name and urging from the faithful warrior-family retainer, Otto Baldwinson, he begins to change his direction. The ultimate pressure comes when the Signoria (The Florentine council) assigns him to investigate a recent series of murders that look suspiciously like more than common street crimes. Thus, Mahoney launches us on a journey of intrigue, danger, and romance relentless in its pace and chock full of twists and turns of plot. Along the way, we’re introduced to Isabella, a beautiful female spy, and a full-on war between Siena and Florence.
The threats are unique (How many times have you read of a protagonist charged with interdicting a fleet full of black plague corpses, for example?) and the perils to the principals constant and bloody. The details of dress, weaponry, and geography ring true, and the description is vivid without slowing down the action. Some readers might be put off by the formality of the language, especially during battle scenes, but I found that it gave the text a historical authenticity that reinforced the other elements of the novel.
It’ s an exciting plunge into world that seems long ago and far away–unless you think of Isis. Then maybe it’s closer than we think.