The Master of Verona
St. Martin’s Press, 2007
The Master of Verona, by David Blixt the first in his “Star Cross’d” series of which there are currently four books published, is a rich and riveting telling of the backstory of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” I feel it important to note that I am myself a “Romeo and Juliet” fiction author, my own work, written with my co-author Emily Dodi (“Before Romeo and Juliet”) is available online at beforeromeoandjuliet.com where installments are published regularly. In researching our book, I have read my share of R&J prequels, sequels, and fan fiction. Blixt’s books are head and shoulders above almost everything I’ve read.
David Blixt, when he is not writing historical fiction, is the Artistic Associate at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. Blixt is also a Shakespearean actor who has played in R&J as well as a director. His intimate relationship with Shakespeare’s plots through staging, directing, and acting informs his story and gives the breath of life to his intricately choreographed plot.
“Master of Verona” traces the origins of the Capulet and Montague feud through the patriarchs of those families’ beginning the story when they are young men. Blixt expands on the role of “Prince Escalus” interpreting him as the historical figure of Cangrande della Scala, the real life Podesta of Verona in the early 1300s.
Blixt expands the cast of Shakespeare characters by introducing Dante and his family, exiled from Florence to the tale. He also adds characters from Shakespeare’s other Italian plays (Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Merchant of Venice) round out the story line.
Pietro Alighieri, the seventeen year old son of Dante, upon arriving in Verona with his esteemed father, makes acquaintance with two young men Mariotto Montecchio and Antonio Capulletto. Unexpectedly they find themselves participants in a battle between Verona and Padua, flanking Cangrande, proving their loyalty and worth, and cementing their place in Prince Escalus’ inner circle.
Blixt augments the storyline of his series with well researched and era-appropriate details. Chivalry, the Palio, and battles between Verona and Padua enliven the story line and give the tale a robust masculinity sometimes seen as lacking from Shakespeare. This is a book a teenage boy would enjoy as well as a more mature reader.
Prophecies, mysterious shrouded women, a babe in swaddling clothes are woven throughout the tale. This book packs a lot of action and detail into its 570 pages! No wonder Blixt has written four more books and plans on writing seven in all to conclude this rich and intricate narrative.
I highly recommend “Master of Verona” and the entire Star Cross’d series. I hope Mr. Blixt can find time to finish writing the fifth title in the series, “Captive Colours”—at present, there is no publication date available.