Book Review: The Master of Verona by David Blixt

David Blixt is a Shakespearian actor, playwright and author. I have never seen any of his plays, but if his novel, The Master of Verona, is any indication of his literary abilities, I would wager that his plays give the Bard of Avon a run for his money.

The Lord of Verona is enthralling from beginning to end. The Lord of Verona, was called by many names, Francesco Della Scala, Cangrande (Big Dog), the Scaliger, Il Capitano, and by some, Il Veltro-the Greyhound. Those who have seen Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet may remember him as Escalus, Prince of Verona, the stern, no-nonsense, ruler of the city of the star-cross’d lovers, admonishing citizens Montague and Capulet, “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.”

The events of David Blixt’s book take place during the generation previous to Shakespeare’s play. The Scaliger is 23 years old and is in the process of making a name for himself among the Italian nobility. The poet Dante Alaghieri, who has just published The Inferno, the first part of his Divine Comedy, had come under Cangrande’s patronage. He says of his patron, “The youngest of three sons, the only one still living. Sharp, tall, well-spoken. No. That won’t do. I said before, words don’t do him justice. He has a. . . a streak of immortality inside him, inside his mind. If he continues unchecked, he will make Verona the new Caput Mundi.”

It is Dante’s eldest surviving son, Pietro, who becomes a major player in this story. He impresses Cangrande with his bravery in battle and Cangrande makes him a knight, along with his two friends Antonio Capacelatro and Mariotto Montecchio. Pietro, Antonio, and Mariotto are the best of friends, a triumvirate, until Mariotto falls in love with Antonio’s bride to be, Gianazza, and elopes with her, an act which will ultimately lead to no happy ending.

Pietro enters a world of complex political intrigue, for which he is ill prepared. His father, Dante, and many others believe that Cangrande is Il Veltro, the Greyhound, the mythical savior of Italy and herald of a new utopian order. Cangrande himself denies this and informs Pietro that the honor may well fall on his illegitimate son, Francesco, who is being raised by Cangrande’s sister Catarina. A number of Cangrande’s enemies have an interest in seeing that little Francesco never reaches manhood, and it falls to Pietro, as Cangrande’s vassal to protect the life of the precocious little tyke.

The Master of Verona is intriguing and fascinating from beginning to end, and I’ve put all of David Blixt’s novels on my short list. Someday I hope to watch one of his plays as well.




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