Source: borrowed from a friend
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, romance, christian fiction
Target audience: YA
Gabriella (Gabi) and Evangelia (Lia) Betarrini are two American teenagers who are leading truly exceptional lives. Not only their mother is an archeologist, specializing in Etruscan culture and history like their late father, but also the girls have an opportunity to spend almost every summer in Tuscany, Italy. Are they happy? Not at all. In fact they hate most of it. Why? No company of peers, let them be Americans or Italians, no funny parties or discos, getting up early in the morning just to go to another excavation site…little money…hard life for any teenager.
One day, however, everything changes. Their mother discovers an old Etruscan tomb called tumulus (or rather several tumuli but one really special) with some strange frescoes. The girls go secretly inside, place their hands on the walls in places strangely shaped like their own palms and bam – they time travel together to the fourteenth-century Italy. They land in the middle of a skirmish because at that time Italy was a country torn by civil unrests; they are forced by circumstances to join a little local war between two cities, Firenze and Siena. It only reflects of course a larger power struggle between Ghibellines and Guelphs, two factions that kept Italy divided and devastated during the greater part of the later Middle Ages…
Soon enough they fall in love with handsome knights, the cousins Forelli, Marcello and Luca (ok, Lia starts falling for Luca only in the second part but still) but they can’t help asking themselves whether such an infatuation makes sense at all. Will the medieval times satisfy them? Will they want return to their mother and contemporary America after some time? Will they decide to stay and lead a totally different style of living?
What I liked:
I agree it was a nice, pleasurable read, full of adventures from the very beginning. Each chapter holds new surprises, daring twists and serious decisions.
If you like Christian fiction, then I think you’ll be pleased with the progression of Gabi’s faith. If you don’t like elements of Christian fiction then I don’t think you’ll be bothered at all because the whole God issue is hardly overly pushy. The presence of Christian elements is very subtle in all three parts and we even get one defrocked priest who doesn’t belong to any church. While Gabi slowly comes around to embracing the idea of God and God’s plan, the story stands just fine on its own. Taking into account the fact that the narration takes place in a very religious era in Italy it worked for me.
What I didn’t like:
Ok, I’ve been accused time and again that I overanalyze YA books (and other books as well) and I think too much about quite unimportant issues. Such unfounded accusations, I know 😉 overanalyzing, who, me?
I did have issues with the series, mainly stemming from the time-travel narration twist. I admit, time travel is a very difficult plot device to pull together; only few sci-fi authors managed to present it in a way that persuaded me. Unfortunately Mrs Bergren is not one of them. Instead of listing my grievances this time I decided to ask some questions and let my readers answer them or not (of course providing they’ve read the series) as they wish and judge my own approach. Here are the issues that bugged me most while reading this series:
· Gabi and Lia need each other to travel in time but they never ask why it works only for them – why not for their mum or anybody else? How come they are so special? How come they never question it?
· Gabriella arrives to the medieval Italy alone, without a horse, dressed like an ordinary contemporary teenanger – jeans, t-shirt etc. so hardly donning a proper attire of a high-born Italian female of that time but Marcello immediately assumes she is a lady of noble birth. Why not a peasant or a merchant girl, though? What exactly made him think she was a lady? Her pretty face? Her demeanour?
· Gabi choses her side of the conflict very quickly just because a certain young man caught her fancy (Marcello) and the opponents are led by an old sadist with bad teeth and even worse breath. She never tries to find out more about the Ghibellines or Ghuelphs – what their aim is, who they represent, who is their real leader, what politics they want to implement etc. Isn’t it a bit naïve, even for a YA book? Neither her parents, scientists after all, nor her younger sister question her choice either…
· Gabi and Lia can communicate with the medieval Italians almost instantly; it is explained that their parents made them read Dante in original version some time ago…isn’t it a bit improbable, though? Similarly their own language (American English) is indentified by some nobles after a while…well, didn’t 14th century Britons speak rather differently than contemporary Americans?
· How come Gabi and Lia knew how to return to their medieval beaux without any clear indicator of which era you are traveling to, just counting seconds? Similarly how did they manage to get back to modern times America without missing some years or even decades? Pure luck?
· Why Marcello or Luca never asked their beloved Gabi and Lia to tell them more or even show them their times and their country, so modern America ? Too busy? Not curious enough? A bit afraid?
· Both girls seemed to miss comforts of life while camping in modern-day Italy with their mum but they rarely mention lack of current water, electricity, Internet, sewage system, toothbrushes, antibiotics and such while living in the medieval times. Too busy? Too infatuated to notice?
· Gabi decides to return to save her father, killed in a road accident, but never really ponder over the long-term consequences of her deed (like creating a second reality or disturbing the time continuum) – neither her nor other members of her family. Why? Too busy saving Siena?
· Marcello has suffered several painful losses too – for example his older brother died prematurely as a result of torture and long imprisonment– but somehow he never suggest saving anybody in the same way his fiancee brought back her dead father…so go back in time, grab him and run. Why?
A nice series but one I am left conflicted about. There were some fragments which I truly enjoyed but I must admit it was also a bit too shallow from time to time. I suppose younger readers (like in their teens) might like it better than adults – it is definitely YA stuff.
What I discovered:
Yes, this series made me dig for some history tidbits I didn’t know and I am grateful – grazie!. Here is the result:
“Where do the names “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” come from?
The names “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” appear to have originated in Germany, in the rivalry between the house of Welf (Dukes of Bavaria) and the house of Hohenstaufen (Dukes of Swabia), whose ancestral castle was Waiblingen in Franconia. Agnes, daughter of Henry IV and sister of Henry V, married Duke Frederick of Swabia. “Welf” and “Waiblingen” were first used as rallying cries at the battle of Weinsberg (1140), where Frederick’s son, Emperor Conrad III (1138-1152), defeated Welf, the brother of the rebellious Duke of Bavaria, Henry the Proud. Conrad’s nephew and successor, Frederick I “Barbarossa” (1152-1190), attempted to reassert the imperial authority over the Italian cities, and to exercise supremacy over the papacy itself. He recognized an antipope, Victor, in opposition to the legitimate sovereign pontiff, Alexander III (1159), and destroyed Milan (1162), but was thoroughly defeated by the forces of the Lombard League at the battle of Legnano (1176) and compelled to agree to the peace of Constance (1183), by which the liberties of the Italian communes were secured. The mutual jealousies of the Italian cities themselves, however, prevented the treaty from having permanent results for the independence and unity of the nation. After the death of Frederick’s son and successor, Henry VI (1197), a struggle ensued in Germany and in Italy between the rival claimants for the Empire, Henry’s brother, Philip of Swabia (d. 1208), and Otho of Bavaria. According to the more probable theory, it was then that the names of the factions were introduced into Italy. “Guelfo” and “Ghibellino” being the Italian forms of “Welf” and “Waiblingen”. The princes of the house of Hohenstaufen, being the constant opponents of the papacy, “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” were taken to denote adherents of Church and Empire, respectively. The popes having favoured and fostered the growth of the communes, the Guelphs were in the main the republican, commercial, burgher party; the Ghibellines represented the old feudal aristocracy of Italy. For the most part the latter were descended from Teutonic families planted in the peninsula by the Germanic invasions of the past, and they naturally looked to the emperors as their protectors against the growing power and pretensions of the cities. It is, however, clear that these names were merely adopted to designate parties that, in one form or another, had existed from the end of the 11 C.”