The Contessa of Rasenna

Irenicon, by Aidan Harte, Jo Fletcher Books, RRP£18.99, 584 pages

Harte’s debut novel, Irenicon, is set in an alternate Renaissance Italy where the Earth has been half-drowned by flooding and where magic and technology are intertwined.

Rasenna is a city divided by a river that flows uphill. On one side lives a cabal of engineers bent on world domination, on the other a set of aristocratic families crippled by infighting. The river itself is inhabited by water spirits, eerie sentient columns of fluid. Harte has terrific fun setting up Borgia-esque intrigues among the various factions and watching them play out. Whether this is as much fun for the reader is another matter – the opening chapters drag.

Things pick up, however, as the engineers, known as Concordians, attempt to bridge the river, sparking conflict. At the heart of it all is young Sofia Scaglieri, skilled martial artist and the future Contessa of Rasenna. In her capable hands lies the city’s fate and, presumably, the direction of the next two books in this trilogy.

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