In a recent National Public Radio spot on Dugald Steer’s Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons and other books in the Myth(ologies) series, an enthusiastic fourth-grade fan of those books remarked, “There’s sorta like a fiction way to learn real stuff.”  How true—and for adult readers wishing to plumb renaissance Italy while being thoroughly entertained, there is Immortal, Traci L. Slatton’s stunning debut novel set primarily in the majestic heart of Florence. Immortal sweeps across the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as it follows the tumultuous life of Luca Bastardo, a beautiful blond-haired orphan boy who is kidnapped from a wretched life on the streets and plunged into an even worse existence as a prostitute by a murderous brothel-owner who surely ranks as one of the most vile characters in literature.

   Blessed with unnaturally keen senses, Luca’s salvation is his ability to free his mind and soar to calming places while he is forced to “work.” As time passes, others age, but not Luca Bastardo, who at twenty-seven still looks about thirteen.  Inventive and lush in the manner of author Anne Rice, Immortal explores the dividing line between the real and unreal, following Luca’s journey across time as he struggles to unravel the mystery of his birth and his ageless beauty while facing a difficult choice: immortality or the chance to find his one true love.

   Along the way, Luca survives the Black Death and the Inquisition and becomes intimates with such giants of the Renaissance as artists Giotto di Bondone and Leonardo da Vinci—150 years apart—not to mention Savonarola and Sandro Botticelli. A mix of art, religion, alchemy, and historical intrigue, Immortal is original and beautifully written, a true gift to the senses and an uncommonly good read.

Alana White

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