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Review: Fiorenzo – Sebastian Nothwell

Fiorenzo - Sebastian Nothwell

Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Romance

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Reviewers: Linda, PRG; Whiskey November, Paranormal Romance Guild

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About The Book

Fiore has a plan. Find a wealthy elderly gentleman, delight him until the end of his days, and retire on the resulting inheritance. It’s the best outcome a low-born courtesan in the city of Halcyon can hope for.

And it seems a perfect scheme… until a mysterious masked man upends it.

Banished from university after a disastrous duel, Enzo wanders the city searching for scraps of the affection he’s lost. His public mask conceals private agonies. A single night in the company of a courtesan, however, balms his wounded heart, and he finds himself returning again and again to Fiore, revealing more of himself than he’s ever dared before.

Furthermore, and more astonishing still, Fiore finds he returns Enzo’s affections.

But while Fiore wears no mask, he nonetheless has secrets of his own. And when the ghosts of their pasts return to haunt them, only the bond of trust between them will carry them through.

The Review

Linda’s Review:

When I received this book to read and review, I was prepared for a long, boring, slow-moving read. The book is almost seven hundred pages, so I resigned myself to skipping as many pages and chapters as I could to enable me to write a review in time. Then I picked up the book – and didn’t put it down till the end. I wouldn’t even skip a paragraph, for fear of missing something Enzo and Fiore said. So if you are hesitant to read such a long book, give it a shot – there isn’t a boring minute.

Fiore is a courtesan. He wears his scarlet sash, which indicates what he is, and during a party onboard a ship, he waits in his room for someone to approach him. He is approached by a man all in black, wearing a bauta mask that coveres his entire face. His only request is to watch as Fiore pleasures himself. Then he leaves.

Their next meeting is in front of the opera house, and that meeting takes their relationship to new heights. There’s sex, but no kissing due to the mask, and exchanging names. Now Fiore knows his gentleman caller is Enzo. Enzo never takes his mask, though he dreams about what it would be like to kiss Fiore. But removing the mask would reveal what hides behind it.

Fiore (full name Fiorenzo) became an orphan when both his parents died of the plague. He was a ward of the temple, and was put in the choir, where he made a friend named Elio. Fiore and Elio’s voices were picked to train at the consevatorio. Their training was hard, but nothing compared to the horror of castrato, the removal of the testicles, which guaranteed that their voices would never change, although they would also never be able to have children. Elio died during the surgery. When it was Fiore’s turn, he was drugged and a surgeon began the process. He lost one testicle, but he managed to wake up and fight, and run.

He has been running ever since. Being a courtesan is a way to provide for himself and stay hidden.

Everything changes the night Enzo comes to visit and discovers Fiore is ill. Since he had had some medical training, he is convinced it’s appendicitis. Refusing to allow Fiore to die, he called in a surgeon. When Fiore sees the doctor’s face, he realizes it’s the same one who had performed surgery on him at the conservatorio. But Enzo is able to calm him down.

Fiore is very sick, running high temperature and panicking every time a doctor comes in to check on him. When he asks Enzo to remove the mask, Enzo finally obliges him. His face is scarred, but Fiore sees only beauty. Day after day, Enzo cares for Fiore, never leaving his side until he was able to care for himself. Slowly their relationship grows. Fiore had always planned on finding a patron to care for him, a position that Enzo happily volunteers for but is refused. Fiore fears that when they grew older, Enzo would leave him for someone younger – and if that happened, it would break his heart.

Enzo has secrets of his own, which over time he confesses to Fiore. He’s known as the Dueling Duke, who was forced from the university and sent home in disgrace. Until he met Fiore, his life was filled with unhappiness, but Fiore brings him joy. Unfortunately, he has one last secret that could bring an end to their relationship. The secret was a doozy, and I had to sit back and take a breath after reading it.

If you wondered how a love affair could last through a seven-hundred-page book, it does. Fiorenzo is filled with sex, secrets, and surprises. But it’s also filled with moments when Fiore and Enzo have to take care of one another, something beautiful that everyone would want.

5 stars.

Whiskey’s Review:

If you are in the mood for an atmospheric alt-historical M/M romance, providing rich world-building and deep characterization, I am happy to point you to Fiorenzo by Sebastian Nothwell. To some this book might read as fantasy; I found its setting compellingly realistic: a city-state closely analogous to Venice, but in which the primary (and official state) religion is not Christianity but something closer to the polytheistic religion of the Roman Empire.

When you take Christianity out of the mix, a lot becomes possible for storytelling inspired by European history. Those who are fans of Eliot Grayson’s “Goddess Blessed” stories should definitely pick up Fiorenzo. Along with the different religious framework comes an assumption of gender equality in politics, inheritance, and social status, which I applaud.

Be aware that this book deals in gory detail with a number of grievous injuries and illnesses. The medical care in Fiorenzo is, like the fashion and transportation, familiar to those who read historical fiction set in the late 18th century—with the addition of chloroform and injectable morphine, which in the real world came into use in the mid-19th century. There is also a physical peculiarity in one main character which informs his psychology as well as the sexual relationship.

Additionally, Fiorenzo is an aristocrat + courtesan romance. Most of us who read historical romance have seen many versions of this trope, some executed brilliantly and others a cornucopia of cringe. It’s well done here, with both men fully engaged and committed right up to the limits of their social and cultural framing. As with any other such romance, acceptance by the aristocrat’s social peers and family is essential to success. My one disappointment with ‘Fiorenzo’ is that the story ends before all those details are worked out. Most other conflicts were thoroughly addressed on the page.

I will confess to tripping over repetition of some uncommon words, not always used in the way I would expect, but in general I was very impressed. Recommended for readers of historical and alt-historical romance.

The Reviewers

Linda: I am an avid reader the mother of 3 sons and grandmother to seven grandchildren. Since retiring I have been doing more reading while volunteering as a CASA worker. CASA is an organization that works with the family court system to ensure that children are in the best living situation. There are way too many children that get overlooked in the foster care system and I visit homes and make visits to the parents. I was born and raised in New York and my husband of 50 years and I live in Upstate New York.

Whiskey November: is an urban professional with close family & friendship ties to the LGBTQ+ community. She supports the work of GLAAD, Broadway Cares, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, among others. She reads in excess of 250 books a year (romance, mystery, science fiction, history, and memoir) and is a self-published writer of contemporary and historical romance.

The Paranormal Romance Guild was established in 2009 by 8 Indie Authors and one Reviewer to be a constant help for authors. You can be a free author member, submitting your work for review OR become a Premium Author Member for a small yearly fee and enjoy many extra services including Free Beta Reads, Author Giveaways and many others. Your reviews are posted on our 3 FB Sites, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter and Instagram. WE REVIEW ALL GENRES LGBTQ+ welcome.

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