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A Young Woman's Courage Amid Turmoil - an Editorial Review of "Siciliana, A Novel"

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

Book Blurb:

A family torn apart by conflict.

An uprising of deadly magnitude.

A nation altered forever.

Inspired by actual events, Siciliana is the harrowing tale of a young woman’s courage in the face of unthinkable turmoil.

In 1282 AD, the Kingdom of Sicily is under the rule of a tyrannical French king and subject to his brutal Angevin army. Daily acts of violence and persecution are commonplace in a once-prosperous realm.

For twenty-year-old Aetna Vespiri, daughter of a revered Sicilian knight, survival has become second nature. As a child, she witnessed the destruction of her family’s vineyard by Angevin soldiers and spent the next decade learning the tenets of stiletto-blade combat.

Years later in Palermo, as the evening bells toll for Vespers, Aetna fends off a nefarious sergeant and sparks an uprising against the Angevin occupation. Now, standing at the forefront of an accelerating people’s rebellion, Aetna finds herself fighting not only for a nation she believes in but also for the meaning of family. In her darkest hour, this dauntless Sicilian woman steps out of obscurity and into the pages of history.

The legend of Siciliana is born.

Set amid bustling Arab markets and brooding Norman fortresses, Siciliana will envelop readers in the sights, sounds, and dangers lurking around every corner of medieval Sicily.

Author Bio:

Carlo Treviso grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in film directing. Traversing the worlds of Hollywood and advertising, Treviso has written and produced commercial broadcast campaigns for well-known brands all over the world. The son of a Sicilian immigrant, Treviso enjoys bringing his passion and appreciation for Sicily to his readers. He is a proud advocate and supporter of conservation organizations UNESCO, LIFE ConRaSi, and World Wildlife Fund––all of which work to protect the beauty and grandeur of Sicily's engrossing past, resilient culture, and vibrant biodiversity. Treviso resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Editorial Review:

Carlo Treviso’s novel, Siciliana captures the events in 1282 leading up to and following the War of the Vespers in Sicily. The ringing of the church bells on Easter eve signals young and brave Aetna Vespiri to lead a revolt against the French Angevins to start a revolution. This story brings to light the determination of the Sicilian people to take back their land from the abusive occupiers who pillage, rape, and murder their people.

When Aetna and Cicero’s father, Don Vittorio Vespiri, is brutally murdered on their homeland vineyard near Mt. Etna, each must find their own path to justice. Aetna escapes and follows the trail her father taught her to the Cistercian nuns in Palermo while Cicero is taken prisoner by the angry Angevins and doomed to death.

Ten years later, Aetna, now twenty years of age and living at the convent, learns to perfect the art of the stiletto for protection and in preparation for eventual combat with the Angevins. She remembers her father’s dying wish for Sicily to be united as one as he hands her the pendant that would become her symbol of liberty.

Don’t be afraid,” Don Vespiri whispered. He grasped the Gorgoneion Trinacria pendant from around his neck, pulling it up over the tightening vise and hanging it around Aetna’s small head. She looked down at the golden pendant hanging heavy around her hair. Medusa’s face and three spiraling legs gleamed in the firelight. “No matter where you are thrown,” he said, “you will always land standing.”

Aetna reassures herself often by referring to this emblem of strength and solidarity. Meanwhile, the royal vicar Herbert Orleans, Angevin governor of Sicily, will stop at nothing to hunt down all those who betray him with their master mercenary, Fra’Diavulu, a Messinese Knight, poised to do the job. The Sicilian loyalists, led by the Order of Teutonic Knights, have sworn an oath to defend Sicilian homes, lands, and families. The clashes between the two results in conflict as towns across Sicily are terrorized and people live in fear for their lives. Allies become greedy traitors like the Archbishop Salvatore Malu, who is in secret alliance with the Angevins, and agrees through his sermons, to convince the Sicilians to accept this life of torture and despair.

Malu opened his palms outward. “Simmo surfaru,” he said to the full congregation. “We are nothing but sulfur. God does what he wants with us. Put your faith in him and this church, and you will find salvation. As Jesus went to the cross, we will pray as we are beaten.” The Sicilians nodded, grasped their hands tightly in prayer, and bowed their heads in submission. They offered up their hard-earned coins to the cathedral every Sunday in hopes of one day being freed from the yoke of their hard existence.”

What the archbishop doesn’t expect is the wrath about to be unleashed on Easter evening vespers. Aetna’s acute stiletto skills are tested when she is forced to kill a man who attempts to rape her for her belligerent attitude. Now wanted for murder, she is hidden by the black-cloaked Falconer of Palermo, Don Rapaci, who appears like a ghost, along with his golden eagle, to come to the aid of the oppressed, then vanishes just as quickly. This beautiful passage reflects Treviso’s skill in storytelling:

Aetna Vespiri stood before a large fire, feeling the heat of the flames against her cheek. She watched, transfixed, as Don Rapaci seemed to dance ceremoniously in the open field with his golden eagle, Rosalia, illuminated by the bluish glow of moonlight. The eagle passed in large circles above before soaring down among the shards of starlight, beating her mighty wings as she wrapped her large talons around Don Rapaci’s gauntlet. Smiling, he raised a piece of meat to Rosalia’s sharp beak. The feathered beast snatched it from his fingers, taking it down in one gulp.”

Rapaci’s insistence that Aetna rise to her full potential, out of her father’s request, leaves her questioning her mission in life.

Become the knight your father was preparing you to be,” Don Rapaci said. “Awaken the Ordu Teutoni. Command their loyalty. Walk the path of rebellamentu.”

As Aetna leaves the safe-keeping of Rapaci, he calls her the name she will go by for the rest of her life—Siciliana. Don Vespiri’s words “We are family. Protect Sicily,” is a recurring theme and Siciliana finally accepts the fate her father has bestowed upon her. Fueled by a fierce vengeance, Siciliana urges all Sicilians to take up arms and protect their families from the Angevins, just as the church bells begin to toll vespers for the arrival of Easter. A revolution has begun. Enter brutal Angevin rulers general Guy de Rochefort and tyrant Re Carlu who call Sicilians “. . dirty people with dirty blood. Blood of gypsies. Savages.” All French forces are determined to make an example of Siciliana and put her head on a post to quell the rebellion. They rely on the Teutonic knight’s nemesis, Fra’Diavuli, Siciliana’s counterpoint, who is just as murderous and violent as she is. The fighting is ongoing and travels from the west in Palermo, to the east in Messina and nearby Mt. Etna, Siciliana’s childhood home. Siciliana recollects her past as she envisions the future.

I’ve forgotten much about my childhood years, but I remember the lava . . . The roaring fountain of red molten rock erupting from the black earth . . . The glowing orange serpents slithering down the flanks of the volcano . . . Deliberately . . . Violently . . . Yet in the path of its devastation came new growth from the ugly soil. New life. A new era . . .”

Treviso adeptly weaves his strong and memorable characters throughout the book. We see Siciliana grow into her power from a rebel to a leader, feared by her enemies for her deadly stiletto talents. Don Rapaci brings a mysterious element to the story along with his golden eagle, Rosalia. The duo shows up at just the right time to fight for justice, Rosalia showing her fierceness by swiftly dismembering enemy eyeballs with her talons in one fell swoop. A bit gruesome at times, Treviso doesn’t hold back in multiple scenes describing the violence and bloodshed a stiletto can bring. Fra’Diavulu plays a prominent role, his masked character traversing from fearsome to soulful with his love of poetry. The twist near the end is satisfying and brings to full circle the meaning of cosca, or family for the Sicilian people. Even though the war is to continue, forgiveness and friendship end the story on a high note and leave the reader, like me, eager to research more about the War of the Vespers and its eventual outcome.

The writing and descriptions are vivid and engaging. Beautiful old-world maps enhance the settings of the book and give the reader a perspective of place. The Sicilian recipes at the end are a nice touch.


“Siciliana: A Novel” by Carlo Treviso receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company

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