A young woman caught up in a medieval witch hunt becomes one of the accused in Pedersen’s debut paranormal historical romance.
It’s 1491 in Florence, Italy. One year ago, Celestina DiCapria’s father was killed by a witch. Just as Celestina’s period of mourning ends, a call goes out to the people of the city to launch a crusade against every local witch. Bonfires are erected to burn them, and club-wielding youths fill the streets. Celestina, who works in her grandmother’s bakery, joins the persecution with gusto, as it gives her the chance to get vengeance on the woman who killed her father. She meets Rinaldo SanGiorgio, an art-loving stonecutter, and he falls for her. Their relationship is strained, however, when the crusade against witches expands to include beautiful works of art—works that Rinaldo believes represent the very soul of Florence. Celestina is willing to sacrifice such things on the altar of revenge, but then she’s accused of witchcraft by the leader of the hunt, Friar Thane Bruckner, after she refuses to burn an old woman alive. Will Rinaldo be able to save her? Pedersen’s prose evokes a Florence of inquisitors, seductresses, starry-eyed artists, and shaven-headed young men in the streets. The style of the book is a bit more high-flown and romanticized than the Philippa Gregory-esque fare that currently dominates modern historical fiction (“Her heart, which only this morning suffocated under a cloak of darkness, lightened with purpose”), but this approach to the subject manner feels appropriate. Pedersen’s version of a combustive, witch-mad Florence makes for a wonderful setting, and Celestina is a believably conflicted, if not very complex, protagonist. Those who are looking for a fun, extravagant read will enjoy this late-medieval adventure.
An engagingly ornate tale of an Italian witch scare.
— Kirkus Reviews
“Pedersen shows deep feeling for both the period and the fate of women accused of witchcraft. Her research into the art and discoveries of 15th-century northern Italy provides a strong foundation for the novel. Also, her narrative skill as she reveals the fear and ignorance of the time provide us with a well-balanced and absorbing read.”— HNS Reviewer Valerie Adolph
Witch-hunting was common in 15th-century Florence. It could conveniently be combined with another favourite activity—bonfires. Once caught, tried and tortured witches were burned for the entertainment and edification of the people.
Celestina, working in the bakery on the Via Scalia in 1491, hears the Montenina bell ring to signify the death of not one witch but three. She is drawn out into the street despite her grandmother’s protests and encounters a crowd celebrating the arrival of the Reform. It is the youth of Florence gathering into an informal army to seek and destroy witches. Celestina, heartbroken at the death of her father killed because of his association with a witch, joins them intent on killing that witch. But Celestina’s beauty has attracted Rinaldo, a rock cutter longing to be an artist. He believes her to be his muse.
Together they face impossible odds searching for the witch responsible for her father’s death. Rinaldo sees treasured artworks destroyed by the mob. Celestina herself is accused of witchcraft. Venerated figures within the church turn out not to be the virtuous figures they appeared to be. Evil abounds, and the reader becomes very aware that the Italian Renaissance was not all enlightenment.
Pedersen shows deep feeling for both the period and the fate of women accused of witchcraft. Her research into the art and discoveries of 15th-century northern Italy provides a strong foundation for the novel. Also, her narrative skill as she reveals the fear and ignorance of the time provide us with a well-balanced and absorbing read.
APPEARED INHNR Issue 92 (May 2020)
The tables turn on Celestina the witch-hunter as one by one family and societal secrets become revealed in CELESTINA’S BURNINGS by Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen. When CELESTINA’S BURNINGS opens, Celestina DiCapria of Florence, Italy loathes witches.
Wh In fact, she is only too motivated to join the witch-burning crusade against them since she believes her beloved father was killed by a witch. Then her heart meets the heart of Rinaldo SanGiorgio, an artist longing to paint magnificent frescos, just as the angry eradicators of witches turn their attention to eliminating beautiful master works of art from magical Florence as well. As is problematic with all persecutions aimed towards ridding the world of Evil however, what exactly ‘evil’ is quickly becomes a somewhat less-than-objective goal, subject to the varying viewpoints of accusers and before long anyone can find themselves damned for being troublesome and in need of eradication; even if the accusation is hurled by someone with personally-motivated reasons. Thus Celestina soon finds herself accused of witchcraft too by a rabidly lustful Friar Thane Bruckner and his violent band of evil-hunters.
Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen’s story is most entertaining when characters are engaged in witty or argumentative banter/behavior (“Simona withdrew her dagger. Its blade was as long and pointed as a Venetian’s nose. By the way Monsignor bolted for the door, the hem of his blue cape flapping at his feet, it was clear he read the look on her face: one of murderous rage.”) Some of the book’s phrasing does read a bit odd or pedantic (“Find her, and be quick as a priest inside a whorehouse about it”), but overall–from the vindictive Monsignor Baldasare to the passionate young lovers–CELESTINA’S BURNINGS is a historical novel alive with the flavors of Renaissance Italy. It offers readers a chance to immerse in the powerful currents of this unique time and place where ancient plus misguided knowledge of the supernatural exist side by side. Will the great love Celestina shares with Rinaldo, along with their combined efforts, be enough to save her and a host of others, innocently accused? Can the great works of art be saved as well?
Sprinkled with authentic-sounding Italian and warmed by such relationships as Celestina shares with her nonna, CELESTINA’S BURNINGS by Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen is a grand and engagingly rich historical adventure worth savoring.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader
Set in Italy in 1491, Celestina’s Burnings begins at the end of Celestina DiCapria’s period of mourning for her murdered father, when Florence rises up against witchcraft: an event which prompts her to join the religious forces to find the witch who destroyed her father.
Common laborer and would-be artist Rinaldo SanGiorgio, smitten with Celestina, joins her newfound cause. When the religious mob attacks the art he loves, he finds himself reviewing his place in the world, along with his loyalties.
As love, affairs, suggestions, and danger swirl around Celestina and Rinaldo, affecting their feelings towards each other and the future course of their lives, readers receive a powerful historical novel of the literal burning of two worlds and the fiery passions of romance alike.
Celestina’s Burnings excels in a sense of time, place, and purpose. Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen injects her characters with powerful social and religious sentiments reflective of their times, introduces conundrums that challenges each character’s place in the world, and inserts political and social strife into their personal lives.
In the course of this story and its unfolding events, readers should be prepared for some graphic (yet historically accurate) descriptions of torture and inhumanity. These are tastefully presented and merge nicely with stories of infidelity, rage, salvation, and the burning heat of a friar’s sacrifice.
Pedersen’s ability to bring the times and their issues to graphic life crafts a story that is passionate, involving, and hard to put down. Where other historical novels would trade emotion for factual representation, Pedersen achieves a smooth balance between the two. Celestina’s Burnings thus holds a rare ability to attract the non-historical novel reader in addition to those who may come into the story with a priority familiarity with and interest in 1400s Italy.
–Midwest Book Review
Author Annemarie Schiavi Pedersen … beautifully entwines some of Italy’s most famous people into the story, doing so cleverly and seamlessly. But her best writing comes through the words of Genève, who at first glance appears to be just another wronged woman awaiting a farcical trial and deadly sentencing. Then it becomes clear that she may be something else entirely. All in all, Celestina’s Burnings is a delightful romp through Renaissance Italy that … will have you on the edge of your seat.
— Colorado Book Review