Amy Rose Capetta mixes mafia families, transformation magic, and the quest to pick your own destiny in The Brilliant Death.
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.
The world of The Brilliant Death is imaginative and detailed. The setting of a distant magical Italy meets mafia families, power struggles, and dangerous magic. While you might be intrigued by the politics, the family drama, you’ll be gripped by Teo’s struggles of the heart. Like a caged bird wanting to be free, to be seen for who she is, and loved for herself.
I’m not gonna lie, I came for the mafia politics and magic and ended up staying because I fell in love with Teo. Teo is born into a family of violence. Some of her earliest memories are of the way violence and blood, seeps into her home. And Teo becomes an important and secret asset with her transformative magic. In a world of powerful families, we have to ask ourselves about the meaning of justice. When the smallest of slights goes punished, sometimes irreparably, how do we know when to stop?
But because she grows up with this background of treachery and betrayal, Teo yearns for praise and her love. It’s a double edged sword because in her family, being praised can result in pain and punishment. But Teo just wants to be seen for who she is, even as she hides her magic from her family. Saving her family time and time again without acknowledgement.
Writing and Themes
The Brilliant Death is a book about Teo, about her struggle to find her feet in this new world. It’s a story where Teo subtly prods about women’s rights, while disguised as her brother, and where politics and subterfuge occurs before breakfast. Due to Teo’s magical abilities, she can transform into anything really – the wind, a boy, and more. So there’s a non-binary aspect to both of these main characters as Teo tries to navigate the world. The restrictions placed on women, and the ways you have to take a new form to save yourself.
Teo knows that all magic comes at price, but has to ask herself if the price is worth it. Who can own the power? And is our freedom worth it? Teo meets some other girls who possess magic, but have a tenuous relationship with agency, and she has to ask herself if the bonds that keep us are as subtle as family or as overt as guarded rooms. And which is more of an illusion? Can you really trick yourself into thinking, as you lay in bed at night, that you don’t owe something to your family?
So while there are mafia families, magic with consequences, plots to overthrow lords, what ended up bewitching me was Teo and her own challenges to accept herself and her own agency. Her quest to find her own destiny, to find people who will help you without reward, and to walk away from those who want to use you as a weapon.
What is an underrated book that released in October that deserves more love?
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