A Place in Panduri: A Review of Deepest Blue, by Mindy Tarquini

The history of Italy is a history of vendetta and strife.  The time Italy has spent unified is nothing compared to how long humans have inhabited the boot.  From the fall of the Roman Empire to the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in the nineteenth century, Italy has consisted of independent city-states, each vying for control of the land.  Even the Catholic Church became involved in the struggle when they ruled the Papal States in the center of Italy.  This long history is defined by vendettas between cities and near constant skirmishes.  The reasons for such strife were usually inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  Little understood arguments between rival families, heirs running off with the daughters of trade rivals.  Deepest Blue may take place in a magical city sequestered from the world, but the problems plaguing the city are familiar to all Italians.

Mindy Tarquini is a second-generation Italian-American raised in the tradition of many Italian-America families.  Like many Italian-Americans descended from very recent immigrants, Tarquini still feels the pull of Italy, a connection which seems to grow in strength among the grandchildren of immigrants.  There is a desire and a longing to return to a home in which we were not born because Italians brought Italy with them to the United States.  There is a sense of familial loyalty and an understanding that anyone can become family, Italian or not.  It is often said that Italians do not have friends, they have brothers and sisters.  Among the second generation, Italy is never far from the heart as, even though the generation was born in this country, they know they will never be 100% American.  All this to say that Tarquini writes about Italy with the grace of someone who understands Italy.

Deepest Blue takes place in the fictional city of Panduri, a magical city-state separated from the outside world by an enchanted valley.  Their ways are both alien and familiar to ours.  They are neighbored by another fictional city-state, Careri, which lies on the border of the outside world and feels its influence much more keenly.  Both of these cities are pulled from the historical record and fictionalized.  Panduri was a real hilltop town in Calabria established to experiment with modern farming techniques.  In the sixteenth century, the town was destroyed by one of Italy’s devastating earthquakes.  No trace of the town remains today, except its descendants.  The people of Panduri were not wiped out.  They survived the earthquake and moved to a nearby hill where they established Careri, a small commune which still exists today.  The names may be the same, but the fictional cities could not be more different from their real-world counterparts.

I am hesitant to label Deepest Blue as fantasy since the magic in Panduri is written and described with a beauty not normally found in most of works of fantasy.  Neither is this novel a work of magical realism, as the magic in Panduri is in no way realistic.  In Panduri, words and music hold immense power.  Entire buildings are grown with gentle, coaxing words.  Illumination comes from asking fireflies nicely to light up a room.  Plumbing is achieved by bribing water nymphs and elementals with sweet flattery and sweets.  A declaration of promise made with intense emotion is magically binding and those with a greater mastery of language command greater magical powers.  The people of Panduri have no understanding of why gold or jewels are so valuable.  They trade in moonlight and cool breezes.  Their entire lives are dictated by the casting of star charts and they are kept Inside by the folletti, gremlins which live in the border valley.  The people of Panduri fear the Outside and its temptations and always wear an iron talisman to bind them and ensure they will always have a place in Panduri.  Those who remain Outside for too long seldom return.

The story of deepest blue is told in four parts following three brothers.  Antonio, the first-born; Matteo, the second-born; and Claudio, the third-born.  Life in Panduri is governed by the Deep Lore, both a set of traditions and a magical force in its own right.  The first-born boy of a family is the Heir, destined to marry and continue the family line.  The second-born is the Protector and guards the border against the influence of Careri and the Outside.  The third-born is the Guardian, a member of the monks who translate the star-charts cast by the Heirs and guard the secrets of Panduri.  The society is also patriarchal as daughters are outside the traditions of the Deep Lore.  Luckily, this is not a book about following tradition.  While the novel follows the point-of-views of all three brothers, it is primarily about Matteo’s life.  Destined and willing to become Protector, his life is upheaved when Antonio, the Heir, takes his place at the border and shirks his responsibilities as Heir.  His actions force Matteo to become Heir and balance his desires with the traditions of Panduri.  This novel will not tell you which path is right, but it will ask you to question and find the answer yourself.

The other half of this story is concerned with Careri and Panduri’s ill-defined vendetta with the rival ducato.  For most of Deepest Blue, we know nothing about Careri.  Even the residents of Panduri do not seem to understand their neighbors.  It is known that the two were once connected Inside and shared everything.  But something happened, a Great Upheaval which was magically forgotten, and caused a vendetta to erupt between the two towns.  Like most vendettas in Italy, it is not defined by mass bloodshed, but by familial and political intrigue.  Careri is still located Inside, along with Panduri, but they have no border with the Outside world and seem to be more exposed to its influence.  Panduri is confused when Careri asks for gold and silver in trade instead of moonbeams and declarations of friendship.  Careri adopts the use of electricity and indoor plumbing and, as they adapt more to the Outside, they lose the connections to Inside.  To Panduri, Careri is a place to be feared.  To them, Outside is a corruption draining the essence of Inside.  But Panduri is afraid of change and so sees change, and Careri, as untrustworthy.

Deepest Blue is not the easiest novel to start.  It begins in Panduri and does not stop to explain how life or magic works in this strange city.  Yet, the story is engrossing.  For all their magic, the people of Panduri are just people.  Deepest Blue is a novel about many things.  Secrets kept for unclear reasons, vendettas with forgotten beginnings, a younger generation moving away from tradition.  There is a lot of talk in Panduri about how the city is falling due to its citizens not following their star charts, but the city only survives because Matteo learns the truth and makes his decisions based on what is right, and not what is best to stay in line with strict traditions.  In the end, Panduri survives because it allows change.

Deepest Blue can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 8 days

Next on the List: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max Brodsky

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