January 29, 2015

Caravaggio: Signed in Blood

by Mark David Smith
Tradewind Books
152 pp.
Ages 11-15

Before seeing the cover, the title Caravaggio Signed in Blood caused me great trepidation, as I anticipated a gory historical novel filled with violence and conflict.  But, though it has some violence and conflict, Caravaggio Signed in Blood is much more. Essentially a fictionalized account of the events which led to the 17th century artist's removal from Rome and the circumstances by which he signs but one canvas amongst his rich collection of artwork, Caravaggio Signed in Blood embeds a story of injustice within the context of Italy's social structure during the first half of the 1600s.

Surprisingly, Caravaggio is not even the main character of the book.  Beppo, a fifteen-year-old boy indentured to the merchant Constantino Sparta, is the book's central character.  Beppo knows Constantino is a bit of a crook, reselling refurbished wine barrels, as well as smuggling illegal editions of popular books, even stealing some himself.  When the powerful Tomassoni brothers, Ranuccio and Giovan, learn of this scheming, they demand Constantino give them a percentage. But Constantino refuses and is murdered by Ranuccio, leaving Beppo accused of the murder.  And then, when Ranuccio threatens Caravaggio who insults him, the artist and expert swordsman defends himself and accidentally kills the arrogant Tomassoni.  Now, Beppo and Caravaggio are on the run together.

With Beppo insisting on serving Caravaggio, the two attempt to evade the vengeful Giovan Tomassoni, moving from Roma to safer locations, and hopeful of Caravaggio continuing to follow his artistic vocation.  Add a love interest, sword-fighting lessons, knights, squires and some Barbary pirates, and the plot conclusion of Caravaggio Signed in Blood is hardly predictable.

Though Tradewind Books is not often on my radar, it should be, having published numerous youngCanLit authors and illustrators whose work I respect, including Beverley Brenna, Sheree Fitch, Kari-Lynn Winters, Rachna Gilmore, Alyxandra Harvey, and James Heneghan, to name just a few.  So I'm pleased that author Mark David Smith reached out for my feedback on Caravaggio Signed in Blood.  There are few books of historical fiction pre-18th century, with most focused on the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, and fewer yet that can capture the appropriate mood and comportment respectably.  Caravaggio Signed in Blood provides a convincing story about a specific period of Caravaggio's life but enhances that tale by incorporating the swashbuckling and romantic adventure of an indentured teen boy.  Though not a long read, Caravaggio Signed in Blood will definitely grab readers and carry them along on the run with the two passionate Italians as they navigate the treacherous power hierarchy of the time.

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