Thursday, March 27, 2008

Immortal

Traci Slatton’s debut novel is not always easy to read, especially a substantial portion of the book that covers the several years that young Luca Bastardo was forced to work as a child prostitute in his native Florence. What happened to Luca and the other children in that establishment was so vile and disgusting that many readers will find themselves ready to move on long before Slatton gets around to it. But Luca spent his 180 years of life in the very cruel and turbulent fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and those were the facts of life as he experienced them.

In another sense, though, Luca lived in glorious times because he experienced the Italian Renaissance and witnessed the creation of some of the world’s greatest works of art as close friend and confidant of those who produced them. Luca Bastardo always had the sense that he was special in ways other than just the physical perfection and beauty that made him such a target of those who were willing to pay for, and profit from, the abuse of his body and spirit. As the years went by, Bastardo found that he was an extraordinarily fast healer, was immune to disease, and aged so slowly that some of Florence’s citizens wanted to see him burned as a witch.

Immortal is one man’s extended journey through life, a 180-year lifetime spent trying to avoid revenge-minded descendents of the man who placed him in prostitution when he was a boy, searching for the parents he could not remember, and hoping to find the one true love promised to him in a dream. Luca Bastardo’s life was as exciting as it was long, almost two centuries of violence, love, and a deeply felt ache to know his family history and to find the woman he had been promised. In the meantime, Florence was reaching its peak as one of the world’s great cities and Luca was lucky enough to befriend the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Boticello and Cosimo and Lorenzo di Medici.

But Bastardo came to realize, as those he loved left him time after time in deaths of their own, that immortality was not without its drawbacks. He struggled to remain a moral man in a world that was largely immoral and he was not always entirely successful. The guiding principle in his life was that everyone deserved respect regardless of his station in life, something he learned on the streets of Florence and which he practiced throughout his long lifetime. In his view, “Education does not make people worthy. People are born worthy, and they live their lives either to enhance that worth or not.”

Traci L. Slatton writes in a style that keeps this 513 page novel from ever reading like a burden. It is filled with the kind of action and attention to historical detail that makes it easy for its readers to lose themselves in the Florence of the 1300-1400s, years when life may have been cheap but during which was created some of the greatest beauty ever seen by the world.

Rated at: 4.0

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