Matta Press (2017)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (1/18)
Melissa Muldoon delivers an enchanting story set in Arezzo, Italy about love, intrigue, mystery, traditions, and art in her latest novel, “Waking Isabella.”
Leonora (Nora), a young research assistant who is at a crossroads in her life, travels to Italy to film a documentary on 16th Century Italian princess, Isabella de Medici. Fascinated with the history surrounding the princess, Nora hopes to uncover some of the mystery surrounding her tragic death, and a painting of Isabella and her mother that has been missing for decades. There is also the rumor of Isabella’s ghost to consider.
While in Italy, Nora reunites with an old friend and meets several new ones. Of particular interest is Gianluca (Luca) Donati, owner of an antique business that has been in his family for generations. When Luca shares details about his ancestor’s participation in smuggling famous artwork out of the country during WWII, Nora’s research takes her down yet another path, exploring the life of Margherita, Luca’s grandmother. Muldoon magically weaves together the lives of Nora, Isabella and Margherita, spanning the course of many centuries, into a story that will mesmerize and haunt readers long after the last page is read.
As a big fan of Melissa Muldoon’s since reading her debut novel, “Dreaming Sophia,” I could not wait to dive into “Waking Isabella.” The author has such a unique voice you can feel her personality in every sentence. Her writing is magical, as she incorporates her distinctive style through various methods. She eloquently takes the reader from the past to the present and back again with seamless delivery. She transitions from real-time drama to bits of fantasy through almost dream-like sequences. She delivers historical references and tells of lasting traditions that drive you want to learn more, and exhibits a contemporary voice through her protagonists, all the while weaving bits of Italian into the dialogue. I’ve read books where intermingling languages actually took me out of a story—but not so in “Waking Isabella,” where the words flow harmoniously together, further adding to the author’s individuality and voice.
The characters are intriguing, versatile and genuine. At the onset of the story readers are drawn inside Isabella’s character, all at once capturing the essence of her free spirit and strength in light of the heartbreaking end to her short life. Protagonist Nora’s character grows impressively with the story as she pushes through her fears with courage and determination to reinvent herself and follow her dreams. Supporting characters are equally portrayed with authenticity and it is an exciting spin inside their heads.
It’s apparent “Waking Isabella” required extensive research, though it certainly feels like a labor of love. Muldoon’s passion for Italy is evident and I really enjoyed the addition of the last few pages of the book where she provides information distinguishing the facts from the fictional parts of the story. I found these tidbits the perfect way to wrap things up, inviting and encouraging the reader to learn more about the historical period, if so driven. All in all, I would say “Waking Isabella” by Melissa Muldoon is a must-read for all fans of Italy, history, romance and intrigue. Eccellente!