Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Romance
LGBTQ+ Category: FF/Lesbian
About The Book
Three powerful merchants, two independent women in love, one masked vigilante.
Love blooms between Florentina and Maddie, but Florentina’s role as the vigilante Night Flyer could lead to her death and Maddie’s broken heart.
Florentina, set on revenge for her father’s murder, creates an alter-ego known as the Night Flyer. Madelena, whose husband was also murdered, hires Florentina as a tutor for her children and love blossoms between them. However, Florentina’s vendetta is fraught with danger, and surprising developments threaten both women’s lives.
In 16th century Italy, a masked vigilante takes to the streets—and skies—of Milan to exact vengeance against Benetto Viscardi, a ruthless weapons merchant who has long plagued the city with his murderous whims. From superheroes to swordsmen, fictional masked vigilantes have fascinated generations of readers, and it’s not hard to see why. Masked vigilantes are, by definition, mysterious, dangerous, and driven individuals.
In Edale Lane’s novel Merchants of Milan, Florentina de Bossi (A.K.A. the Night Flyer) embodies all of these qualities, but she’s also so much more. Her primary motivation throughout the book is simple (to avenge the death of her father who was murdered by Viscardi), but the methods she undertakes to do so are anything but.
As an inventor (one who studied under Leonardo da Vinci no less!), Florentina draws from a wealth of knowledge to create a multi-shot crossbow, smoke bombs, Greek fire, and even a winged contraption that allows her to glide over the rooftops when attacking her foes or escaping into the night. I loved how capable Florentina was. While bumbling heroes have their charm, Florentina was a protagonist I could trust. She was positively brimming with intelligence, and her inventive plans and ability to think on her feet kept her a step ahead of her enemies—which made for a very satisfying “vengeance” story arc.
Of course, Florentina’s story didn’t solely revolve around revenge—which brings us to the romance! Early in the book, Florentina seeks to secure a position in the household staff of Alessondro Torelli, a wealthy merchant and rival to Viscardi, to place herself in a strategic position as well as potentially help out the Torelli family, in particular Alessondro’s sister Madelena whose husband was suspected to have been murdered by Viscardi.
As Florentina takes on dual positions as tutor to Madelena’s young children and tinker for Alessondro’s business, a deep friendship soon blossoms between her and Madelena. This friendship smoothly and mutually transitions into romance as the two women get to know each other better.
I really enjoyed how drama-free the romance was in this book. Of course, it’s implied that the relationship could have damaging social implications if made public or disclosed to the family’s enemies, but everyone close to Florentina and Madelena are refreshingly supportive. As for Madelena herself, I found her to be a wonderful, complex character full of potential. She’s much more introspective than Florentina, so we get a lot of insight into her thoughts and motivations, which all reveal her to be a curious and kind-hearted woman.
As a widow with two young children, she’s also not a conventional love interest, an aspect that I really appreciated. Although Madelena didn’t have as many opportunities to shine in this particular book as Florentina, I’m excited to see how the two work together in subsequent novels. The relationship dynamic is both sweet and strong, and I can’t wait to see more of them together.
At only about 70K words, Merchants of Milan is a relatively quick read packed with action, romance, and a multitude of varied, interesting female characters. In general, the novel does a great job of balancing action sequences with softer, more romantic scenes. However, the early chapters, which have fewer on-page action, build a bit slowly, but once we begin seeing the Night Flyer’s escapades first-hand, the book becomes nearly impossible to put down. Merchants of Milan also contains a wealth of historical details that really make the setting shine. The author has clearly put her master’s degree in history to good use in creating a view of 16th century Milan that feels both historically rich and offers glimpses of fantastic possibility.
This was the first book I’ve read by Edale Lane, but it certainly won’t be the last, especially since the sequel to this novel, Secrets of Milan, is actually already available. I will say that although Merchants of Milan is the first book in a planned trilogy, it is satisfying to read on its own. The story feels full and the primary plot line comes to a satisfying conclusion—but there’s also plenty of hints, big and small, for where the story may go in subsequent novels. I for one am excited to dive into that next book in the near future!
Devon Widmer is a grumpy scientist by day, a scribbling daydreamer by night, and a sleep-deprived parent full-time. She recently graduated with a PhD in Chemistry, a degree which she plans to put to good use reading and writing a multitude of science fiction (and fantasy) stories. Devon’s talents include drinking copious amounts of coffee, forgetting where she set her glasses, and laughing at her own jokes. Also, although she often describes herself as grumpy, she promises she’s actually quite nice!