The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta
My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes
Date Published: October 30th, 2018
Pages: 352 pages
Synopsis: For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.
All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.
Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.
Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
This novel was, by far, one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it absolutely did not disappoint. I was instantly drawn into this story from the very first page and it held me captivated all the way through. The richly designed, Italian-inspired world of Vinalia is incredibly immersive, combining magic and politics in a way that deeply intrigues. A long-believed fantasy come to life, the magic-wielding strega—that come to us in the forms of our protagonists—drive the narrative to fascinating lengths. A tale of family and friendship, bravery and strength, gripping conspiracies, capped off with a refreshingly unique, gender-fluid romance, The Brilliant Death is an absolute delight to read.
In this novel, we follow Teodora DiSangro, a strega and the daughter of a mafia don. The strega are nothing but a myth to the people of Vinalia—there is no way they could be real—but Teo’s powers prove otherwise. She has kept her powers a secret from her family for many years, partaking only in turning their enemies into music boxes or other such trinkets. But circumstances change suddenly when her father, one of the heads of Vinalia’s Five Families, is sent a poisoned letter that leaves him critically ill.
Teo is thrust into a world of politics where secrets abound and enemies lie in wait, and must fully harness her gift by transforming herself into a DiSangro son. With the help of Cielo—a strega who can shift between genders, and with whom she is falling in love with more each day—Teo embarks on a journey to the capital in order to save her family and face the man responsible for their suffering.
The magic system featured in this story is truly unique and beautifully woven into the fabric of the plot. I appreciated how it begins in a somewhat humorous way that, while it is weighted with much importance, takes off to a lighter start. However, as the narrative progresses and becomes increasingly more complex, Teo’s abilities reflect this change, showing more depth and dimension—from the creation of decorative objects to the shifting of one’s entire being. Her power is inextricably linked to and bolstered by her love for her family and the pure strength that she shows in order to protect them proves that they are, in a way, the true source.
The characters are some of the best parts of this novel and they are a major force that drives the narrative forward. Teodora is a superbly crafted, multi-dimensional character who makes the perfect protagonist and heroine for this particular story. She is easy to connect with and root for and works brilliantly as the narrator. Seeing the events of the plot through her eyes and thoughts serves to further enhance the already intriguing tale. We see her move from transforming people and objects on the outside to learning to transform herself on the inside—both literally and figuratively—as she grows and develops as a character. And as if I could not love the characterization found here any more than I already did, in comes Cielo.
Cielo is charismatic, mischievous, and one of those characters who is just impossible not to love. I do not often go for the romances in most stories—I do not find myself shipping many characters or falling in love with them myself. They have to be extremely special and well-crafted to really reach me, and this one did reach me by a long shot. As Cielo takes on the role of Teo’s magic tutor, as they come together and grow in and with each other, Capetta depicts their interactions in such a pleasing way. The chemistry between Teo and Cielo is palpable and their story is an absolute joy to watch unfold.
Capetta’s writing is excellent and very captivating. From her loveable characters to her detailed and strong world-building, it is easy to become completely immersed in every aspect of the novel. She creates a compelling backdrop for the myriad of events that form this spectacular saga and seamlessly entwines her characters with each other and their surroundings. At times I felt the events were a bit too fast-paced and I occasionally became a little lost among everything. Some scenes and character decisions were a bit rushed and confusing. Nevertheless, these moments did not detract much from the overall storyline. Capetta’s words are fluid and I still felt carried effortlessly through the pages.
I feel I must admit that I do believe this book is not one that will appeal to every reader. Much of it is quite quirky and unusual, a very singular and extraordinary style, and the action moves very rapidly. However, I highly recommend giving it a read. The messages that this novel conveys are progressive and important beyond words. It strives to remind us to always be true to ourselves and to never give in to the expectations and pressures of others or the world around us. It speaks of the significance of getting to know ourselves and discovering our identities. The power at the core of these words increases in intensity and takes hold of you through—and well-beyond—the final pages.
Personally, I found The Brilliant Death to be a beautiful and enchanting story of love and the lengths that one is willing to go to save and protect their family. It was all that I hoped it would be and more. Capetta has created an utterly distinctive tale—a powerful and enjoyable adventure with characters that will undoubtedly win many readers’ hearts. It is one of those novels that is quite refreshing to come across in today’s young adult fantasy market, and I applaud her for breaking the mold and making her own voice stand out. She proves herself to be a very talented writing through and through, and I really look forward to reading more of her work. This is a story that will stick with me for quite a while.
Amy Rose Capetta [she/her] is an author of YA fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery. Her first novel, Entangled, was a BEA Buzz Book. Her latest, Echo After Echo, is a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway. It received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Upcoming: The Brilliant Death (Viking 2018), The Lost Coast (Candlewick 2019), Once & Future (co-written with Cori McCarthy, from Little, Brown’s Jimmy Imprint in 2019). She holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. Amy Rose is the co-founder of the Rainbow Writers Workshop, the first-ever LGBTQIAP workshop for YA and middle grade. She lives in Vermont with her partner and their young son.