Traci Slatton's first novel, Immortal, is an impressive piece of historical fiction, with an intriguing fantastical bent. Growing up as an orphan on the streets of fourteenth-century Florence, Luca Bastardo realizes that he's different from ordinary boys. Blessed with extraordinary physical perfection, startling regenerative abilities, and a glacially-slow biological clock, Luca struggles in vain to track down information about his lost parents and a lineage that seems to be linked to the mysterious Cathars.
Betrayed by a friend, Luca is sold to a cruel brothel owner, forcing him to endure years of abuse and degradation. Only when Florence is decimated by the Black Death, decades later, does Luca manage to escape his bondage and turn his fortunes around. Luca's enjoyment of his newfound wealth and comfortable lifestyle is tempered, however, by a vivid prophesy in which he's forced to choose between immortality and the true love of a woman. As he cultivates friendships and alliances with various Renaissance figures like Leonardo da Vinci and the Medicis, seeks to master the secrets of alchemy, and searches for his soul mate, Luca's agelessness attracts the attention of sadistic persecutors at a time when the Renaissance is giving way to the Inquisition.
As one might expect in an epic spanning nearly two centuries that's brimming with authentic historical detail, Immortal has a density and pacing that requires patience and perseverance on the reader's part. The writing, while somewhat workmanlike, melodramatic, and overly-reliant on dialogue tags and explanation points to convey emotion, is precise and well-edited. I'm eager to see what this talented author will be able to accomplish once she sheds some of these conventional constraints and unleashes her full artistic talent.
-Kevin Joseph (as reviewed for TCM reviews)
on February 27, 2008
I read quite a few popular new novels during the course of a year, but I generally don't write reviews of them. Now and then, however, a novel comes along that really impresses me and, indeed, I think may well become a classic piece of literature. "Immortal" by Traci L. Slatton, a first-class historical novel, is just such a work. It satisfies many of the criteria that I think a true classic must meet such as a great theme (or themes), deals with important human values, has memorable characters, has the potential to speak across time, and is written in fine prose. Whether or not this book becomes a genuine literary classic, of course, will depend on whether it is read by the generations to come. It does, in my opinion, have that potential.
The setting, for me, couldn't be better: the city of Florence and its environs during the Italian Renaissance. This is a period of history that I continue to study with particular interest. Combining a fictional protagonist, Luca Bastardo ("Luca the bastard"), with actual historical personalities, such as Giotto di Bondone, Leonardo da Vinci, the Medicis, and so forth, along with actual historical events such as the Inquisition and the terrible medieval plague, can be fraught with danger since all too often it results in a story with a mono-dimensional protagonist, shallow historical characters, a superficial plot, and a less than profound background against which the action plays. Fortunately, that is not the case in this story; Slatton has done her research.
The major themes in this delightful book are Luca's search for who he is, where he came from, and what his destiny is. These are the major themes of any truly "classical" work of literature. But that is not all that Slatton brings to this work. Virtually all of the perennial problems with which humanity suffers and the very fundamental questions which we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives play a part in this beautiful story.
I think the reader will find this a hard book to put aside. I know I did. It is not often that a literary work of this type can be described as a page-turner. Furthermore, I don't think any serious reader will come away from the reading without being profoundly affected. And, maybe, that more than anything, makes this story a potential future classic. Highly, highly recommended.
on January 31, 2008
This is one of the best books I have ever read, of any time period, by any author! From start to finish, I couldn't put this book down. And for anyone looking for something deeper than your run-of-the-mill cheap, popular thrill - Immortal is definitely for you. This novel, set in 13th century Florence, follows the unnaturally long life of Luca Bastardo, an extraordinary man searching for love and the meaning of life. Luca is not your typical hero. He lives through the most horrible, depraved of sins and goes on to pave his winding path through the exciting worlds of art and alchemy, war and power, the most uplifting love and the agonizing pain of death. Along the way, he makes friends with many famed artists and political figures of the Renaissance. Let me emphasize though that you do NOT need a background in Art History to love this book! Slatton brings one of the most exciting periods of history to life and it stands completely on its own. No one could have created a better depiction of this time. Slatton does an impeccable job of merging a fascinating story with real historical events. And you'll fall in love with each and every character on the way!
This book takes a unique and interesting approach to historical fiction, one I haven't seen carried out with such artistic skill since Richard Powell's "Whom the Gods would Destroy," and that is placing a fictional character in a fantastical yet historically accurate world. Luca, by virtue of his long life, gets to meet and know some of the major figures of the Italian Renaissance, including Giotto, Boticelli, Lorenzo and Cosimo di Medici, and the great Leonardo da Vinci himself. Slatton creates such wonderful, true-to-life characters from these art history icons. I couldn't believe how much I, as the reader, felt for them, completely entrapped in their trials and tribulations. How strongly I loved the young, passionate and deeply intellectual Leonardo! How strongly I hated the brutal and severe Savonarola! And of course there is Luca's inveterate enemy in the Silvano family, but I'll leave that to you all to read...
"Immortal," like all great books, raises a few philosophical questions to the reader and explores them throughout the progression of the novel. Who, or what, is God? If God is all, how do we reconcile the "good" aspects of God with the "bad" ones? Is love the ultimate goal of any life? Luca lives through quite a few wars and participates in many battles over the course of his lifetime. We see Florence go through various ups and downs through his eyes, and we are left with the ultimate paradox between the "grand scheme" and the "individual experience." Is history about the big events, or is it merely the sum of more meaningful, personal experiences? In war, are unnecessary deaths sacrifices for the greater good, or should we take a more humanist approach and do whatever we can to minimize casualties and 'keep the peace?' You can see, this may be a historical fiction novel, but it's very relevant to our world today.
Highly well-written, richly detailed, yet completely readable; filled with history and still a complete page turner, "Immortal" is a must read for, well, everyone! Highly recommended!
-Jessie from CA
It's a been quite a while since I read a novel that I absolutely adored. Immortal sucked me in at page one and even after over 500 pages of reading I could have read more. In Immortal, Traci L. Slatton follows the 180 year life story of Luca Bastardi, a Florentian citizen and son of Seth who writes his autobiography from his Inquisition cell as he awaits public burning at the stake.
This is not an easy read, beginning in a cell as Luca awaits execution. "But now the burns and broken bones, the gangrene putrefying my leg and nauseating me with its odor, curtail my time." Luca's tale begins as he is stolen from his parents and abandoned on the streets of Florence to make his way, and continues as he is enslaved for many years in the homosexual brothel of Giordano Silvano where he learns survival at all costs, becomes muse to Giotto, survives the Black Plague, and learns the arts of medicine, alchemy, and negotiation. He becomes a tutor to Leonardo da Vinci, meets the love of his life, and finally solves the mystery of his genetic gifts as he lays literally at death's door.
The themes that ultimately hold both his life and this novel together are the major ones - life and death, love and hate, beauty and ugliness, spirituality and religion, science and belief, and the constant battle of progress versus comfort. Immortal takes us out of our comfort zone and asks us to consider how we would choose to live our lives if we could live forever.
Impeccable history, interesting narrative, and enough fantasy to make it fun, Immortal shows us the best and worst of humanity over an intense couple of centuries. She brings in art history, jewish folktale, and philosophy (including The Wandering Jew), a carefully drawn history of the Catholic church and the Inquisition, the Black Death, and an overarching theme that in the end love really does conquer all.
on March 14, 2008
I love historical fiction because I'm always fascinated by different times and places. Yet, it's surprisingly hard to find a historical novel with just the right mix of period detail, character development and plot intensity. I picked up Immortal and from the first page I thought "this is what I've been waiting for".
The only life Luca Bastardo has known is life on the cruel streets of Florence. He doesn't yet know that he possesses an incredible gift that gives him great longevity. At least, it should be a gift, but for Luca who endures unimaginable suffering, his gift far too often seems like a curse.
Traci Slatton's writing is spare yet sensual and the world of Renaissance Florence really comes to life. The textures and smells and all the details become immediate through her writing, but she never makes the mistake that so many historical writers do by becoming bogged down in world building. All the major figures and painters make their appearance but the story is about Luca and the focus remains on him throughout a plot that's thrumming with tension. Remarkably for a book that spans almost two hundred years, Slatton manages to make Luca's life seem too short. I kept reading, knowing what was coming and thinking "no, not yet".
One of the things that comes through most strongly in the novel is human cruelty and human limitations but also our potential for good. I feel like part of the tragedy of Luca's story is that he'd suffered so much that he'd come to believe more in the cruelty than the kindness of humans and the divine. Perhaps if he'd been more decisive, and felt more deserving of happiness he could have changed how things turned out.
My only quibble with this book was the portrayal of female characters. Too often I felt they were more representative than three-dimensional. We're told that they're smart and brave but they seemed to be waiting to be saved more than anything else. The author also seemed to struggle at times with the topic of homosexuality and how to present it but it wasn't handled in a way that was unrealistic given the context. Overall I enjoyed Immortal immensely. A sad but also satisfying read.
on December 19, 2008
The Immortal tracks the long life of Luca Bastardo, who is born in Florence during the Renaissance with the gift (and the curse) of immortality. Over the course of two centuries, Luca experiences first-hand the major events of the Renaissance and interacts with many historical figures. Imagine the Forest Gump of the Florentine Renaissance, and you'll have a fairly accurate idea of this book.
Clearly, Slatton has done her research, but, unfortunately, she insists on including all of it in the book. Slatton saddles her characters with improbable dialogue and burdens the narrative with lengthy scholarly debates about religion, art, and other topics of the day. Luca's unnaturally long lifespan feels like a construct to enable Slatton to cover a lengthy historical time period from the point of view of a single character rather than a credible premise for a novel. As a result, The Immortal reads more like a creative history than a novel, but at least the history is interesting.
on November 18, 2012
I was spending several weeks in Florence and asked Amazon to find me some books to Kindle-read while there. One was "Immortal." And you know what? I had the BEST time reading it with all the leisure in the world. Who could ask for more? No challenges, no soul-searching, no wrestling with intellectual divots into the brain, no pondering great issues, just enjoyment. Names you recognize, places you can identify and visit within a few minute's walking. The best of all worlds. I had a great time.
on November 17, 2015
I had high hopes for this book. I love historical fiction, and I liked the author's writing style right off the bat.
However, I just couldn't get past the graphic rape of a 9-year old boy early on in the novel. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate historical fiction that doesn't sugar-coat the past, and I know that these types of things did happen (and still do). I can even appreciate that this is a literary technique to build and shape this particular character. But that doesn't mean I want to read about a child being raped. No matter how promising this novel might have been, that's a deal breaker for me.
It's a shame because I rarely give up on a novel. Scroll through my other reviews and you'll see - no matter how boring, tedious, or dull a book might be to start, I generally stick with it. I also love horror movies, so I don't tend to be squeamish when it come to violence. But I draw the line at child rape, abuse, and torture. Sorry, but just not my cup of tea.
My review is intended as a fair warning to anyone else who, like me, picked up this book thinking this is just another work of historical fiction. And while that may be the case, it also contains subject matter that may be objectionable to some. As they say on TV, "viewer discretion is advised."
on May 24, 2013
I actually was picking up some books for my kiddos at the library and this book happened to catch my eye. I couldn't put it down! Then I returned it without remembering the author or writing down the title. I found it again and am SO excited to read it over and over! Very well written.
on August 11, 2013
Honestly, this book was a joy to read. Every page just seemed to come alive as Luca's story unfolded. Romance, tragedy, art, and even a little bit of magick found their place in this epic tale. Many historical fiction works capture the mysticism that influenced some of the world's most renowned thinkers, artists, and philosophers, but Slatton's work takes the gold here. Enriched with aspects of history that may not be well-known, Slatton's story includes pieces to a greater puzzle. Thankfully, those fragments of the mystery can be seen everywhere, especially in this work. If you look closely enough, that path to wisdom might be closer than you think. Can't wait to see what else this author might have in store for us!