The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta (The Brilliant Death #1)
Publisher: Viking Books For Young Readers
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: The Brilliant Death
Summary: 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.
*Received ARC through Bookish First*
My Rating:★★★★☆ ½
My Thoughts: The Brilliant Death is a YA Fantasy filled with politics, magic & adventure! Set in a magical country inspired by 19th-century Italy, we follow Teo on a journey to the palace of the current ruler and uncover the secrets to save her father, leader of one of five mafia families! Capetta’s novel is character-driven, action-packed tale of intrigue, that also explores gender and identity, that will have you hooked from page 1!
I had incredibly high hopes for The Brilliant Death, so when I reached the last page, not only had I been surprised in so many ways, but I was left ready to get my hands on the sequel!
The Brilliant Death is such an immersive, wonderfully developed, and rich story that you won’t even notice the pages flying by! There’s so much packed into each page & chapter, everything about Capetta’s story is so incredibly vivid and real!
Everything you think you know about Teo & her world just expands on a massive scale and goes in directions your not really expecting! There’s so many different plot threads + mysteries, but they all manage to come together in the end & in really unique ways!
Capetta has forged a tale rich with politics, an immersive and unique fantasy world, with a plot that contains so many different layers to it, that everything about Teo and her journey comes to life in such detail!
Teodora (or Teo) di Sangro has understood since she was little, the power of her family! As the 2nd daughter of one of five ruling mafia families in the country of Vinalia, Teo knows that family comes first.
In order to do that, she uses her magical abilities as a Strega (in secret) to take care of those who’ve done wrong by her family, by transforming them into objects from fans to prayer beads, even daggers!
Early on in the story, we’re introduced to Pietro, who did wrong by the family & is one of the di Sangro’s latest victims. Teo is ruthless in defending her family and intimidating those to get the answers she needs. As punishment, she turns him into a music box!
Teo is no stranger to this form of punishment, we learn she even has her room filled with, what we learn are, all those she’s transformed (permanently it seems) into a variety of objects!
Family is so important in this story! From the exploration of her dynamic with her youngest brother Luca (who is the sweetest, I adored him (´▽`ʃƪ)💕), to the powerful bond she has with her father, Niccolo di Sangro, her older sister, stepmother & other siblings, Capetta shows just how much family means to Teo and how vital it is to the story!
Magic is not widely accepted as it once was and now the subject of fairy tales! But, Teo finds herself unsure of her place with magic in her mafia family, especially when she does use it to help them with her powerful + ruthless father who not only has no idea, but also doesn’t accept magic!
When the leaders of the 5 ruling families are poisoned one by one by letters sent from the current ruler, the Capo, Teo decides to take charge alongside Luca & a mysterious gender-fluid mage by the name of Cielo to the Palazza and answer the Capo’s message, not disguised as boy, but turned into one!
Her father may have a chance, but only if she can reach the Capo & find a way to save him!
From the beginning we are introduced to Luca di Sangro, Teo’s younger brother who hasn’t been interested in taking over for the family, but going to university and continuing with his studies, mainly in science!
We see just how close they are and that Teo is ruthless in protecting her family, but most importantly Luca, who she cares for so much!
The 2 embark on this journey and along the way are reunited with Cielo (& his magical transformation book) who then becomes Teo’s tutor and help her control her abilities and use them to save her family!
Now the 3 of them are on a journey to make it to the Palazza, but not without heartbreak, secrets revealed about the magic within their kingdom, & the harsh realities Teo faces as she encounters danger, politics, intrigue, and so much more!
Not only that, but we learn Cielo lost his mother and I just loved exploring his story + learning more about him!!
The Brilliant Death has so many fantastic elements that you really see Teo and her world come to life in this story that’s so incredibly developed and immersive, the pages will fly right before your eyes!
Set in a fantasy world inspired by the author’s Italian background, you can really see the heart and authenticity to the setting, culture, and politics explored in this story! The many different layers to the setting and world are also given great development and exploration, I was beyond impressed with how much of the unique + vast world I retained after finishing!
I don’t want to spoil too much about the setting, but there’s goddesses, magic, warring mafia families, rival powers (mainly by the country of Eterra), political intrigue, and so much history weaved throughout the story and at such perfect moments, you never feel bogged down at all! Capetta weaves in such lush descriptions and fascinating tidbits about the world, its such a wonderfully developed setting, you could really picture it!
*I will say one of my favorite parts about the setting you learn about later in the story, is this interesting circular dungeon within the Palazza (with 8 different levels) & it gave me major Six Of Crows vibes from the Ice Court!
The Brilliant Death reminded me why I love politics and intrigue in YA Fantasy! From the unsaid secrets between Teo, her siblings, & parents, the secrets and image Teo needs to keep up with in the game of intrigue within the Palazza, all of these and more, build into the story and really keeps the reader guessing!
The exploration of magic was also so incredibly developed that I found it built with each major plot point! From the different abilities Stregha can have to details about the magic itself that really builds into the story as you get further into it!
Capetta’s writing through 1st person not only gives you such an in-depth look to Vinalia through Teo’s eyes, but also allows you to connect so much to the characters and the plot!
As mentioned above, this novel also weaves in the importance and differing sides to gender, identity, & how one finds comfort within their own skin, which is explored so wonderfully.
Teo identifies as queer, while Cielo is gender-fluid and alternates between he & she pronouns (which is specifically stated through Teo whenever Cielo goes between he/she). In Teo’s world and within her family, the boys have higher expectations + clearly are given more of a say (unlike Teo).
With her lessons to try & transform with Cielo + once she makes it to the palace & meets the other ruling families sons, she is constantly met with expectations by taking on the role of a son, which has its pros & cons when it comes to keeping it a secret. She’s thought about this for so long and now that she is given the opportunity to save her father, she finds herself easily accepting her different identities!
She uses this to her ability to uncover even more secrets that it really turns the plot into very unique directions!
The characters were all fantastic and I loved them all (even the villains) because they are all so incredibly complex, multi-faceted, and developed, that you understand them so well by the end of this book and they may even come to surprise you!
Not only is there Teo, her father, & Luca, but also her other siblings + relatives like Beniamo (the oldest brother) & Mirella, but her cousins Carina & Adele, and her stepmother Fiorenza (Teo & her stepmother’s dynamic was so wonderfully developed!!).
There’s also Cielo, the Capo, the ruling families sons: Ambrogio, Vanni, Lorenzo, Rao and 2 mysterious girls within the Palazza, Azzurra & Delfina!
There were so many great dynamics explored with Teo throughout this book, but aside from her & Luca, I have to shout-out a few of my favorites: Teo & the adorable Cielo (their banter & relationship is the best!!), but also Teo & Azzurra (she was so interesting & really surprised me!) + Teo & Ambrogio!!
Now I don’t really want to give away too much of the plot, but truly it surprised me in so many ways and I loved following Teo on her journey to help her father, but also learn more about her home of Vinalia!
My only minor critique is that the last part of the story (its split up by 5) did feel a bit rushed nearing the end!
I am beyond excited for the next one and highly recommend picking it up if your a fan of political fantasy books, are looking for Queer + Genderfluid rep, and are looking for a unique and immersive YA Fantasy tale!
The Brilliant Death is a book I managed to finish in just a few days and I am just beyond happy it surprised + went above my expectations! I am beyond excited to see where Teo’s journey is headed in book 2!
This tale set in 19th Century Italy weaves with magic, exploration of gender & identity and is filled with a wholly unique magic system and world that transports you in an instant! It has easily become one of my new favorite YA Fantasy books, with its expansive setting, immersive story and world, themes of family, love & so much adventure + intrigue to keep you on the edge of your seat! The Brilliant Death is Capetta’s start to a new fantasy series and not one you want to miss!
+ Keep an eye on the blog for a new upcoming feature to the blog, with The Brilliant Death being the first of that new series! If you love fantasy + fantasy settings, you’ll definitely want to check it out!! 😍✨⚔📚