I was excited to be assigned The Italian for review; I enjoyed Coffman’s historicals years ago, when I first started reading romance, and I looked forward to a pleasant reacquaintance with her work. While the book turned out to be decent, it also turned out to have a far less romantic component than an historical one, and what romance existed turned out to be remarkably unsatisfying. Either my memory is faulty, or you really can’t go home again.
English painter Beatrice Fairweather is returning to Tuscany to visit with family she hasn’t seen in five years, including – and perhaps, especially – her adopted cousin Angelo, with whom she fell in love a lifetime ago. But the flirtatious and carefree playboy she recalls has become a serious and fiercely loyal patriot in times when such sentiment is highly dangerous. This time around, their love will surely face deadlier foes than her lack of self-esteem and faith.
Meanwhile, Angelo Bartolini returns to his family home when things get hot for the Carbonaro, or Italian revolutionary, to find that the “Mouse” he lost five years ago has become a confident young woman of poise and talent. But her resolution to resist his charm is nothing compared to the threat from Austrian spies who follow their every move. Angelo must decide whether his desire for love and happiness with Beatrice outweighs his desire to work toward a united Italy free from Austrian tyranny, because clearly, he can’t have both.
This book is interesting and fairly informative, historically speaking, as well as a distinct change for readers accustomed to love as the overriding desire in the hearts and minds of both the hero and heroine. Angelo is dedicated to the Carbonari cause above all things, and that includes happiness with Beatrice. However, most elements of this book don’t translate well to the romance genre. The strong emphasis on Angelo’s revolutionary activities forces multiple long separations, that dreaded enemy of romantic flow. And at least one wrench in the works toward the end of the book is uncalled for and unnecessary, simply making a fairly long book longer without purpose. Meanwhile, another plot twist is as unlikely as can be, and hardly goes anywhere. Also, the end seems to be stretched out as much as possible, and the actual finale seems very abrupt as a result.
The characters are likable enough people, extremely sympathetic and interesting, although they sometimes do ill-advised things. There is a bit of distance between the reader and the hero and heroine, but the beautiful and unusual setting easily make up for these flaws; with a better, more focused plot, this book would shine. And yet, the writing was solid, with strong prose and lovely descriptions. In fact, even though this book was undeniably interesting and even pleasant – if largely unromantic in nature – at the same time it was extremely frustrating to read a so-so book, knowing that it could so easily have been a great one.
Bottom line? If you want to read an interesting book about the Italian revolution, one that gets a bit long in the middle and features a romance that doesn’t really go anywhere, step right up. Otherwise, save yourself the frustration. It’s a pity, but The Italian didn’t take me back with fond memories to the Elaine Coffman I remember.