Review of Dante’s Garden: Mystery and Magic in Bomarzo by Teresa Culter-Broyles

dantesgardenSummary: Dante’s Garden is the story of what happens when Frank Farnese, a book collector from 2017, falls through Hell’s Mouth, a strange sculpture in Bomarzo, Italy.

In 1570, Lucrezia Romano and famed antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio welcome him when he awakens in a garden, from what he thinks is a dream but isn’t. Together they must figure out how to put the world right again.

The Inquisition, an extraordinary visit to Venice, and the dreams of Duke Francesco Orsini entwine to pull them all deeper into adventure, danger, love, and the hardest decisions of their lives.

Dante’s Garden weaves fact and fiction, history and imagination, to tell the story of Frank and Lucrezia, and the connection that, finally, may not be strong enough to hold them safe as time splits apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As a lover of Italy and history, I was looking forward to reading this book. The moment I began reading, the author’s imagination and intense knowledge of Italian culture and heritage mingled to form a beautiful tapestry of a tale.

In current-day, book collector Frank Farnese boards a plane in New York and travels to Italy to meet Pasquale and Sandra Ciacionne, who have a 16th century Aldine Press copy of Dante’s La Commedia. The book is old but defective, due to two upside-down pages at the back, a burn mark, and a note left in the front…a note that seems like it was written to Frank.

In 16th century Italy, a young and beautiful, well-read lady named Lucrezia Romano has dreams of adventure. She meets the antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio (based on the real Ligorio), and they become instant friends. He travels to the Duke Vicino Orsini’s palazzo to work on his garden of grotesques and stone monsters and invites Lucrezia and her parents along. Lucrezia will be Ligorio’s model for a statue of Ceres.

Meanwhile, in current-day Italy, Frank visits the Garden of Monsters (the Duke’s garden from the 16th century and a real place). He has the copy of Dante with him as he tours the garden alone and it grows dark. A thunderstorm ensues, and he takes cover in one of the sculptures, the Mouth of Hell, but not before seeing the statue of Ceres. He is drawn to the statue’s face in particular.

In the 16th century, the Duke has a ball. The party guests are in costume and are mingling in the gardens. Lucrezia is among them. A thunderstorm breaks out.

After the storm ends, Frank emerges from the Mouth of Hell, only to find himself surrounded by what he thinks are reenactors. He is imprisoned by the Duke for questioning, as it’s strange that a man just seemed to appear out of nowhere during the storm, while all the guests were taking cover.

Frank is confused and grows angry, as he thinks these reenactors are having him on. In time, however, he understands that he has traveled through time. Vicino, Ligorio, and Lucrezia are among the small group who believe that Frank (Francesco as they call him) is from the future.

Besides Frank’s sudden appearance, other strange things start happening in the garden. Statues seem to be moving. Glowing letters appear at the entrance of the Mouth of Hell at night, saying, “Abandon all thought, you who enter here,” echoing the warning in Dante’s writing.

A story of adventure and love ensues as Lucrezia, Frank, Ligorio, and Lucrezia’s father travel to Venice to visit the Aldine Press to procure another copy of the Dante, which they think is Frank’s ticket back to the future. There is also real concern that word of what’s going on in the garden will get back to the Church, and Vicino, Frank, and Ligorio will be questioned and possibility burn for it.

The relationship between Frank and Lucrezia develops as they travel together. One of my favorite parts of the story was when they were in Venice and were in love in what many consider is the most beautiful city in the world. There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, which echoes a couple torn by circumstance who is in love and just living in the moment. Having visited Venice, I can attest to the fact that you can’t take a bad picture there. I felt like I was right there with Frank and Lucrezia. While I longed for them to somehow find a way to stay together, the larger problem of the Church and the happenings in the garden tugged at my heart, knowing this would be a heart-wrenching decision.

Back at the palazzo, the Duke makes some startling discoveries about his late wife and blood magic. The Church begins to question him and others, and it’s a race to see how everything will pan out.

The more I read the book, the more the momentum grew. The climax is indeed a strong one. The ending made me cry, brought me right there with Frank and Lucrezia. More than the mystical and magical aspects of this wonderful tale is that it’s a love story at heart, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

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