GENRE: romantic suspense/mystery
Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key – one carried by her mother on the day she herself died – to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy. This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever – a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind, the greater the danger surrounding her – superstitions, ancient hostilities, and personal vendettas. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in the unforgettable blood feud, she begins to fear that the notorious curse – “A plague on both your houses!” – is still at work, and that she is destined to be its next target. Only someone like Romeo, it seems, could save her from this dreaded fate, but his story ended long ago. Or did it?
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This novel tells the story of Romeo and Juliet in a different way, as it spans over the time of six hundred years, starting with the original couple – Romeo Marescotti and Giulietta Tolomei – and ending the story with two people that might finally break the famous curse that summoned “a plague on both your houses!”
Julie is a young woman who is, despite her expectations, bequeathed a strange inheritance after her Aunt Rose’s untimely demise – she must travel to Italy and find her treasure there and this treasure, supposedly, has something or even everything to do with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She discovers that she and her estranged twin sister Janice are descendants of Giulietta Tolomei, the real-life Juliet – Julie and Janice Jacobs’s real names are Giulietta and Gianozza Tolomei – and Julie, in love with the play, decides to finish the research that her late mother started many years ago and this very same research may have cost both her parents their lives and made Aunt Rose change the girls’ names to protect them.
Once Julie comes to Siena, the place where the famous story really took place, instead of Verona, she begins to discover many surprising and strange things, one of them being that the families of Tolomei, Salimbeni and Marescotti – not only two, but three households – still do not trust each other and she, against her will, is sucked into the middle of their differences. In Siena, this means that Julie soon finds herself in danger and, believe it or not, there are worse things than the Italian mafia.
Julie uncovers the entire history of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, or rather Romeo Marescotti and Giulietta Tolomei, who died in 1340. The story from the 14th century is very similar to Shakespeare’s play, but there are some significant differences – Romeo met Juliet while she was hiding in a coffin; Romeo never killed a Tolomei, but was falsely accused of having committed the murder and was thus banished from Siena; there was a secret marriage, but Giulietta was still forced to marry her family’s greatest rival and the murderer of her entire family, the patriarch of the Salimbenis; the lovers’ death happened quite differently; and so on. The truth is, the true story of Romeo and Juliet was far more bloody and more cruel than the one presented in the play.
I really loved the 14th century chapters of the novel and all of it was based on real people and events that were, according to the author, changed a little for the sake of the story, but I don’t mind such changes, unless they are really disturbing. The historical part will definitely be a treat for lovers of historical fiction and the only complaint I have in this respect is that the language seemed a bit modern at times when the story was taking place in the past. The author researched both the 14th century and the present-time Italy well and this gives the novel an air of authenticity. I loved how very present the history of these three families still was in the present-time Siena and how it still mattered whether you were a Tolomei, a Salimbeni or a Marescotti, as this really is very characteristic of Italy as I know it. The web between these families is very intricate and things definitely get complex when it becomes apparent that our heroine, Julie, is supposed to find her Romeo (who some say died, some say still lives, but all agree that he is a dangerous, edgy guy), but Julie falls in love with Alessandro Santini, whose godmother is a Salimbeni.
The characters are very interesting to read about, especially Julie and Alessandro, my immediate favourites. They start off by hating each other, but this develops into something more romantic, yet definitely more complex. The novel is filled with surprises. Some characters are not who everyone else believes them to be and surprise the reader with their true identities. There are also slightly paranormal elements present, but not in great measure; just to spice things up and create an atmosphere of mysticism, which I enjoyed.
I do have a few complaints. Julie and Janice, the twin sisters, are supposed to be on bad terms and estranged, so their patching things up and solving the mystery together seemed a bit rushed. Also, the ending seemed a bit rushed and some things were not resolved, for example what exactly happened to the character of Umberto and some other things.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and should appeal to lovers of mystery, romance and, of course, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Thank you Suzana at Bookalicious Ramblings for giving me the book to read and review!
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