Michaela Roessner,
The Stars Dispose
(Tor, 1997)

I always hated history in high school -- too many names and dates and places, and not enough rich, complex details about those names and dates and places. For that same reason, I've always shied away from reading historical fiction. Michaela Roessner's second novel, The Stars Dispose, however, has gone a long way toward changing my mind.

Roessner transports her readers into 16th-century Florence for an unusual look at the intrigue and events surrounding the rise and fall of the de' Medici family. Instead of escorting readers through the front halls and conference rooms, Roessner ushers us into the real heart of the palazzo: the kitchen. Young Tommaso de Befanini is studying the culinary arts under his father's tutelage in the home of Ruggerio the Old, famed astronomer to the de' Medici family. Tommaso's mother, Piera, provides a less obvious (and just as important) service for the de' Medici family; the women of her family have always practiced the old hearth magics, passing their knowledge on to the de' Medici women.

Tommaso is drawn into the heart of the de' Medici family, his life closely tied to that of the young Duchessina Caterina. His cooking skills also give him the opportunity to work for and learn from Michelangelo. As events in Florence spiral out of control, Tommaso and his family become key figures in the struggle to keep Florence and the de' Medicis from being destroyed.

In the tradition of Laura Esquival's Like Water for Chocolate, Roessner includes recipes for some of the most memorable dishes in the book. Her writing is a feast for the senses, detailing a Renaissance Italy that is thoroughly researched and captivating on every page. The novel is complex, but Roessner also provides the reader with a list of characters at the end of the book and a glossary of Italian cooking terms. For those of you who would like to find out more about Italian food, Roessner includes a list of reference books.

The Stars Dispose is a beautiful novel; its magical approach to Italian history should earn it a spot on every fantasy lover's bookshelf. Sigh -- if only history class was this enjoyable....

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]



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