June 8, 2011

Review: Juliet by Anne Fortier


Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved Aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key—one carried by her mother on the day she herself died—to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy.
This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever—a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind, the greater the danger surrounding her—superstitions, ancient hostilities, and personal vendettas. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in the unforgettable blood feud, she begins to fear that the notorious curse—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work, and that she is destined to be its next target. Only someone like Romeo, it seems, could save her from this dreaded fate, but his story ended long ago. Or did it?
From Anne Fortier comes a sweeping, beautifully written novel of intrigue and identity, of love and legacy, as a young woman discovers that her own fate is irrevocably tied—for better or worse—to literature’s greatest star-crossed lovers.

Who knew that the William Shakespeare classic, "Romeo and Juliet", was based upon a true story? Not me! "Juliet", by Anne Fortier, features a story within a story. The main narrative is about Julie/Giulietta, a distant relative of the original Juliet. Living in modern day America, she is astounded when her guardian aunt dies, leaving the bulk of her estate to Julie's twin sister. Julie is left a mysterious directive to return to the Italy of her birth, in order to pursue a lost family treasure that her parents had died protecting. In the midst of running from thugs, meeting Siena's inspiration of the Montegues and Capulets, and starting to fall for a member of her family's 'enemy clan', she learn the real story of literatures's star-crossed lovers.

To be honest, these were the chapters that I liked best. Turns out that the real Romeo and Giulietta lived in 1340's Siena, not Verona. Their story is actually more interesting than Shakespeare's, I think, because Romeo turns out to be a bystander from a third family, caught in a crossfire of family rivalry that apparently continues to today in Siena. These passages were so well written that I would gladly read an entire novel just about them. I found myself thinking about the historical story long after the book was finished. Brava for Fortier for her historical research!

The modern day narrative truly pales in comparison. While it was interesting, I found myself having to really stretch to recall the protagonist's name after just a few days. There were places where the dialogue, especially from Julie's sister, was extremely hokey--she sounded more like a 30s movie gangster's moll than a modern day woman. Some of the action scenes were also clumsy; it was difficult to decipher exactly what was happening, or the scene wasn't 'guy' enough when the main player was a guy. To make up for the shortcomings, though, Fortier's heroine was fairly believable, and the romance was done well. And, as I stated before, the historical sections were astounding. Romeo's horse race through the streets of Siena... perfection.

I liked "Juliet", on the whole, and can completely see myself reading it again, if only for the background story.



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