Verdict: Part vengeance quest, part fantasy adventure, HAND OF SILVER, HAND OF GOLD is a beautifully vivacious novel that transplants effortlessly into its time and place, taking a complex and interweaving journey through magic and mystery, and giving a clever history lesson along the way.
Set in a vividly depicted renaissance era Italian city of Bologna, HAND OF SILVER, HAND OF GOLD explores the city’s dark undertows through the eyes of lead character Orlando, as he slowly unravels the untold story of his family life and the problems facing his city, discovering his own strength of mind along the way. Incorporating at its periphery the strength of the ancient Roman church, the rivalries of ancient city states, the work of Leonardo Di Vinci, the struggles of the renaissance period working class and the enthralling physicality of a ‘modern for its time’ Bologna, HAND OF SILVER, HAND OF GOLD is extraordinarily successful at what it does: incorporating a winding tale into a distinct and memorable sense of place.
In the opening pages, the lead character, Orlando Novi, learns of the tragic late-night death of his father, portrayed to him as a suicide. Knowing his father, he doesn’t buy it, and sets out on an initially tentative quest to try and prove to the lackluster city police that the tragic death was something far more sinister. Orlando comes from a scarred family. Living with his mother and grandmother in an (at best) middling part of town, he’s a little lost, a little lonely, and not particularly sure of himself. His brother died years before, of plague, and his dad’s gone now, too. The fear and grief take him places quickly, as he slowly uncovers the secrets and magical forces previously hidden from view around him. He grows in confidence, starts to have real impact on friends and family, and hits hard against the somewhat timid everyday of his life. What was a murder mystery – and, to some extent remains one – quickly takes on complex and memorable plot twists and fantastical angles.
What jumps out, though, is the effortless incorporation of the book’s environment into its plot. While we don’t claim any expertise in the area, from clothing to pubs, the entire environs of Orlando’s atmospheric adventures strike a brilliant and seemingly captivatingly realistic tone. Grey is able to inform and transport readers at the same time, and in the course of following a narrative that builds tension, you’ll learn about anything from the social pressures of the era to the neighborhoods and their textures and nuances.
The character development is equally strong: Orlando in particular exhibits believable and logically-motivated changes in behavior, strength and attitude, assisted by those around him in his progression both into manhood and into a character of real strength and purpose, rather than a lost youngster. If there’s a flaw here it’s that you do, sometimes, see the twists and turns in the narrative coming, but it’s easy to forgive. HAND OF SILVER, HAND OF GOLD is an epic quest, and one that encourages the reader to engage with a time and place that might not immediately inspire. 400-odd pages on the mythical mysteries of six century-old Italy, it turns out, is a great investment of your time.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader