The Brilliant Death duology is an intriguing take on some familiar fantasy tropes and Amy Rose Capetta is able to breathe new life into them with her powerful and unique characters.
Rating: 4 Stars
The Brilliant Death
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Synopsis: For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.
All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.
Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.
Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.
Rife with political maneuvering and tension, The Brilliant Death feels unlike any YA novel I’ve read before. The heavy Italian and mafia influences give a new setting for some tropes we have seen before, but Capetta puts her own spin on those tropes with her intriguing magic system and exploration of gender.
The Brilliant Death focuses on Teodora DiSangro, a fiercely protective sister and secret strega (magic wielder). She uses her power to transform things into other items to take out those who threaten her family. When a poisoned letter nearly kills her father, Teo is forced to out maneuver her abusive older brother and present herself as her younger brother as head of the DiSangro house in the capital of Vinalia with the help of a infuriatingly attractive stranger and strega, Cielo. Cielo, who changes for and gender as simply as one turns a page, trains Teo and her magic on their journey to the capital and has secrets of their own that threaten to derail Teo’s plans. But as Teo and Cielo grow closer and plans begin to morph, the two will need to decide who to trust in the complex world of the Five Families or Vinalia coud pay the price.
Capetta shines at bringing Teo and Cielo to life. Though I may not have fully connected with the characters, I still found them wonderfully written and developed. Both are complex and realistic in ways that I think will be help some out there finally see themselves in a book. Teo goes through a lot of internal issues with her gender and family and how she is viewed as a person and political figure. However, many of the side characters don’t get a lot of in depth exploration which leaves parts of the story feeling very two dimensional.
The two things I loved the most were the setting and the magic. There is a very old world Italy feel to the setting and everything is very mafia tinged. I can’t even think of another YA story that has that same feel. Capetta’s description of the world and food is exquisite and I struggled with wanting to book a trip to Italy the whole time I was reading. And while I think there was definitely room for the magic system to be explored more, I still loved the concepts Capetta brought to the page.
I find The Brilliant Death to be a very quiet, simmering type of story. It lacks some action that YA fantasy readers may be used to, but it makes up for it with intriguing political scheming, shocking plot twists, and unique settings and magic that will intrigue those who give it a shot.
The Storm of Life
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Release Date: January 28, 2020
Synopsis: The sumptuous and powerful conclusion to the gender-fluid duet begun by The Brilliant Death, hailed by Kirkus as “a delicious and magical intrigue too tempting not to devour” (starred review).
Teodora diSangro and Cielo, the strega she loves, are on a mission to save their country of Vinalia from its manipulative leader, who wants to exploit streghe and use them as his weapons. But will marshaling a small but powerful band of streghe be enough to wrest power from a cunning dictator? And what if Teo’s been setting her sights on the wrong enemy all along? This epic sequel to The Brilliant Death completes the Italian-inspired fantasy duology with shocking twists, steamy romance, and magic that will dazzle your imagination and make you wish Vinalia were a real place.
After the twists and turns with the ending of The Brilliant Death, we pick up with Teo and Cielo as the prepare to fight stage a war against the Capo and his plot to use the streghe to his advantage. But as Teo and Cielo bring more streghe and others to their fight, complications and tragedies arise.
The Storm of Life is like The Brilliant Death turned up to eleven. Everything feels more visceral and real and consequential. The stakes feel so much higher than they did in The Brilliant Death and the twists pack so much more punch.
Teo really begins to come into her own in The Storm of Life. She continues to fight for the ones she loves, but now she must fight for more. Watching her change and grow in her new world is engaging and I’m sure will speak to many out there on certain levels. And while I still didn’t feel much connection with any of the characters, it never made me enjoy the story any less.
One of the things that really stands out for me in The Storm of Life (and to a slightly lesser extent, The Brilliant Death), is the idea that humans are so much more than the body they inhabit. In the patriarchal society in this novel, Teo is seen as not being strong or smart enough to wield political power because she is seen as female. But that’s ridiculous because it is not her anatomy that makes her a brilliant strategist. The way Capetta tackles gender and the politics surrounding it is powerful and impactful.
While The Storm of Life is more high-stakes than its predecessor, there are definitely some pacing issues for me. There were times when it was just a lot of talking and scheming, which is a lot of what this story is about, but it lost my interest in some parts. That being said, I was still enraptured with the setting and style that Capetta builds in this world.
All told, The Brilliant Death duology is a unique and intriguing read. I think it stands out from other YA fantasies with its approach to gender fluidity and finding who you want to be, regardless of the form you are born in. I think that this is an important book for many youths out there and I hope it finds its readers.