The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

This is an extended version of a review published on Reedsy Discovery.

I do love a good historical fiction book although it is with some trepidation that I read those that have modern people time travelling back. I prefer the full immersive experience of being a person from those times. I sometimes think the know-it-all stance of the 21st century perspective is more intrusive and a little patronising at times in the narrative.

However, being taken to the streets of 14th century Siena could never be a bad thing and that is where the action of the book predominantly takes place.

The obvious parallels to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon have already been drawn by previous reviewers of this book and I can see why as we have a heroine who finds herself unexpectedly transported in an instant from the present day to olden times. Replace Scotland with Siena, Italy and move it further back by a few hundred years and it would appear that you have the same thing but in a different place.

But I think that Melodie Winawer’s book is different enough to stand up to scrutiny in its own light. The book is concerned with Beatrice Trovato as she finds herself following in her brother’s footsteps to Siena where he is a scholar of medieval history on the verge of making a groundbreaking discovery which will shed new light on the rivalry between Siena and Florence, the two big power states of the 14th century.

Once she arrives in Siena, she throws herself into discovering what Ben was researching and why another Sienese historian is so interested in it. While she is delving deeper, Beatrice is snatched from the 21st century and time travels. She then has to navigate through this new world, uncertain of how women will be treated and having nothing, except her basic historical research, what she had read from Ben’s notes and her trusty bra to assist her.

Factor into this the prospect of the Black Death and knowing that Siena is particularly badly hit by this and Beatrice has a lot to fear. She also is inextricably linked to a painter of the time, Gabriele Accorsi, mural painter and author of a journal she discovered in the present day. Armed with what she knows, she has the difficult task of trying to save the people she loves whilst maintaining an assumed existence as a widow from Lucca, who would not be privy to any of the knowledge which she has obtained.

Winawer’s narrative skips between first person where Beatrice is our guide and we follow her in her endeavours and adventures and third person where we are treated to the machinations of those who are working against Siena. This is deftly done and the plot unfolds at a good pace as a result. If you know anything about Florence and Italy in the 1300s, then you’ll know that the Medicis were a political powerhouse and not overly sympathetic to rival city states.

Her depiction of 14th century Siena felt solid as well as the characters whom she has inhabit it. The threat of the Plague is present but there are no gory descriptions here and there is no dwelling on the horror, merely the sense of loss.

There is nothing too taxing here – a pleasant historical novel with just enough intrigue to keep me guessing, just enough danger to keep me interested and all intertwined with a love story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: