“Terribilita” is a term used to describe how a piece of art evokes emotion from a viewer, be it awe, terror, or a subtler reaction. Good art makes you feel. Author Ben Wyckoff Shore delivers plenty of thrills, chills, and romance in his novel TERRIBILITA. Set in late-19th century Italy, the novel looks at Italy’s battle for independence and unification through the eyes of the Ferrando family. Grandpa Antoni worked with Giuseppe Garibaldi to help unify Italy. But rebel son Enzo steals (and sinks) weapons intended for new Italian Prime Minister, Agostino Depretis. In order to avoid retribution, Enzo joins the Italian army in North Africa and his twelve-year-old son, Lucca, is placed aboard a merchant vessel. Grandpa Antoni stays behind…and pays the ultimate price for his son’s crimes.
The core of this story is Lucca’s teenage years on the high seas. There’s plenty of knot tying and sail rigging to keep fans of nautical history happy, as well as romance, pirates, and swashbuckling. Shore has the narrative voice of a romance writer–everything feels sensual and lush. The prose borders on purple at times, but it’s entertaining and immersive, engaging all the reader’s senses. However, historical fiction can stumble when it drifts into “Forrest Gump”-like absurdity (always in the right place and time, smack dab in the middle of real-life historical events) and there are a few “Gumpian” moments in the story. Lucca becomes a roommate of Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, only to discover Grandpa Antoni inspired the iconic Red Cross symbol after handing Dunant a tattered Genoa flag after the Battle of Solferino. TERRIBILITA has a couple of convenient eavesdropping moments and an amazing “ex machina” rescue that tests the boundaries of believability.
TERRIBILITA is reminiscent of Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Both novels have protagonists growing up on the high seas, and both put their young heroes in real danger at the hands of malicious adults. At its best the story echoes Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls where mercenary soldiers fighting for money clash with idealists fighting for a better future. War takes a devastating toll on winners and losers alike, but none more than innocent non-combatants. In Shore’s capable narrative, Lucca’s transition from boy to man mirrors Italy’s maturation as a nation at the close of the 1800s.
Romance and adventure on the high sea gives TERRIBILITA the thrill and chills of a Saturday morning “B” movie marathon, only with more interesting characters and better dialogue.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader