Mirella Sichirollo Patzer’s novel, Orphan of the Olive Tree – Historical Romance Saga, is skillfully plotted and provides a tasty dish of jealousy, revenge, unrequited love, rebellion, loyalty, superstition, and sheer, wicked spitefulness. (Never fear – the book also serves up plenty of love and desire). Despite covering a large span of years within two families, it never lags as it counts down the events leading to the lovers’ ultimate destiny.
The title character, Felicia, was abandoned in a basket hung in an olive tree outside a convent and grew up in the care of nuns. The story of how she ended up there begins with a blood oath between best friends, an envious wife, and a malicious accusation that comes complete with karmic backfire.
The villainess of the piece, Prudenza, is particularly well written. She is one nasty piece of work, but she is definitely a product of the culture she lives in – one in which women are the chattel of their husbands and their only power is through the manipulation of others. She felt very real to me due to the author’s considerable strength in characterization. I easily got to know and recognize each of the characters of the book, including the more minor characters. I was pulled in to caring about the smaller characters of the healer, the dwarf, and the young woman who takes in the healer when she finds her desperately ill on her doorstep.
Although the novel focuses on the tale of Felicia’s star-crossed love affair with horse-racing Luca, the intertwined subplots that play out as the lovers are repeatedly pushed farther apart by circumstances are often as interesting and as heart-breaking as the main story. In the hands of a less skilled writer, subplots can sometimes distract from a story. Not so with Orphan of the Olive Tree. It all fits, and it adds to the overall atmosphere and enjoyment of the novel. It kept me reading and wanting to know what was coming next even though I knew that our lovers had to get together in the end despite all of the strikes against them.
On a more critical note, I had a hard time believing that a young woman in 13th century Italy who has spent her entire life in a convent would give it up quite so easily. Yes, it’s love, star-crossed love, blah blah blah. But…it wouldn’t have been a romance if she hadn’t, so I’m over it.
The second minor criticism is that I expected a book that included some history. Orphan of the Olive Tree is really more “Romance” then “Historical”. There was no particular historical series of events that bound the story in any special way to 13th century Italy except for a war just ended — it could just as easily have been set a couple of hundred years on either side of that date. I like to learn a bit of history with my romance so that I can pretend it is educational instead of just a guilty pleasure. My (self-deceiving) expectations were not met here. The subtitle should have been “Romance in a Historical Setting” to be strictly accurate. However, the setting was used to great effect and gave the love story a rich, authentic feel.
Ms. Patzer is a truly fine writer. She has it all down – dialogue, plotting, descriptive power, and characterization. I recommend the book highly for Romance lovers. I think Ms. Patzer’s writing competes right up there at the top of the Romance genre heap. Although I grabbed my copy of the book on a free promotion day, I wouldn’t hesitate at the $3.99 price. You will get your money’s worth out of this one.