First Lines: We paused on our hike, panting and wiping our upper lips as our guide–the old Italian farmer who owned this land–chopped down a small sapling, clearing the overgrown trail. “Ecco, vedi,” he said, pointing to the ground. See here.
This book initially caught my eye about five years ago. I don’t remember how I heard of it, but I can tell you it 100% I put it on my to-read list because of time travel and hotties. It sounded like a YA Italian version of Outlander.
Most American girls in Italy for summer vacation would be enjoying it. Seeing the sights, eating good food, etc. For Gabi and Lia, a summer in Italy isn’t exactly a vacation. They’ve spent most summers in Italy with their archaeologist parents, digging up forgotten sites and, well, being covered in dirt and living for months in outdated hotels isn’t their idea of fun anymore. They’re bored. But that all changes the day Gabi and Lia sneak into their mother’s latest find, an ancient tomb, and put their hands on handprints painted to the wall. Suddenly, the girls find themselves in 14th century Italy, in the midst of a fierce battle between knights of opposing forces. It seems their summer just got more interesting. And a lot more dangerous.
I love a good time travel story. My inner history nerd always wonders what I would do if I magically plopped down in one of these times. (Spoiler: I probably wouldn’t last a week, if we’re being realistic.)
This story caught my eye because it was traveling to a time and place I didn’t know much about: 14th century Italy. There are knights, battles, castles. What’s not to love? Although, to be fair, this book isn’t all that different from other time travel stories I’ve read. It shares a number of similarities to Outlander as well as Wake Unto Me, which is actually probably the closer match as it follows the “girl travels in time to find a hottie in a castle” trope. But still, it had a lot to recommend itself.
I did end up rather enjoying the story. It does have a lot of action and a lot of twists to the story. I liked seeing what trouble Gabi would get into with her 21st century ways (wearing PANTS? OMG girl.). Gabi is a strong heroine with an even stronger sense of what she needs to do: survive, and find her sister Lia, who has gotten separated from her. I liked seeing her adapt to her new surroundings and the fantastically funny commentary she had.
I adored the men in this story too. Everyone from the gallant Marcello to the charmingly flirty Luca, the men closest to Gabi have made chivalry an artform. It was swoony and cute and, yeah, cheesy, but that’s what made it so much fun. It was just a good time, reading this. However, I’ll also say that Gabi’s chemistry with her knight in shining armor was…a little lackluster. It was courtly and stuff, which I get, but it just felt a little cold. Or I’ve been reading too many romances and expect fireworks all the time. Admittedly, I’ve never been good with actually courtly love stories. (For example, I have a hard time understanding Mr. Darcy’s appeal in Pride and Prejudice just because I never see any emotion out of him.) So let’s be real, this is probably on me.
Now, just as I got started reading this, I realized it’s won some kind of Christian lit award. Which, you know, great for it, but I don’t really see it. Like, I kind of do. We’re in 14th century Italy, after all. Christianity is the norm and a way of life here. It shows up. There are crucifixes in bedrooms and prayers before they eat. I wouldn’t have expected anything different for the time period. But it’s not really part of the plot. Gabi makes an off-hand comment once about having found religion after saying her second prayer ever, but it sounded almost as sarcastic as it did serious. I don’t really see this as Christian lit at all. This is a sci-fi/fantasy novel through and through.
This was so much fun to read and I really can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.