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The Brilliant Death #1

The Brilliant Death

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For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

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.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published October 30, 2018

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About the author

Amy Rose Capetta

5 books18 followers
writes now as A.R. Capetta

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 634 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews152k followers
February 18, 2021
Someone: hey-

Me, busy being emotionally invested in this 19th century mafia story featuring genderfluid shape-shifters, an amazing queer romance and an iconic and unabashed obliteration of the concept of gender binary: shhh please be quiet

So, what’s this book about?

Teodora di Sangro, the daughter of a mafia don, pays for the safety of her family with the coin of her own conscience, parceled out every time she wields her secret magic—a shadow talent of turning her father’s enemies into decorative objects—until that purse is empty at last. To Teo, “family is fate” and family comes with very strict lines and dedicated pigeonholes for everyone, and a burn of bitterness at the knowledge that her vindictive eldest brother should inherit the title that should have been hers with none of the hardship that had made her so desperate for it. When another high lord sends out poisoned letters to the dons of the five families, including her father, in a desperate clawing for advantage, Teo must journey to the capital masquerading as the di Sangro heir to save her father, but a simple disguise won’t do.

Enter Cielo, a genderfluid shape-shifting strega, who will tutor Teo and help her uncover the truths about her magic that’s she’s been mining for, like shaking dust from a tapestry of wonder. But Teo and Cielo quickly find out that a quell board has been set up, the game already in play, and all they could trust in the shifting sands of the capital’s politics is each other.

“We’re not like them. Or rather, we are and we aren’t. People hold a deep fear of complication.” 

Do you get all giddy at YA fantasy? Do you relish stories that blend magic and political intrigues? Are you craving new diverse and inclusive fiction? If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then this book is just for you.

The Brilliant Death is a lively, quick-moving fantasy that makes sure readers know (and like) its characters well enough to care when threat comes for them. The intimidating and intricate workings of the mafia life provide an intriguing backdrop for the action—and power is a tangle of threads that everyone wants to clench in their fists, which ratchets up the tension and drives the novel to its bloody but satisfying conclusion.

Although The Brilliant Death sometimes flounders until it finds its footing, characters seen only briefly, early on in the book, come to ends that don't feel necessary or earned, villains lack enough depth and care and detail in their development, and the story’s momentum suffers as a result of keeping a tight, narrow focus on the romance between Cielo and Teo, I wasn’t bothered enough to get thrown out of the story. I was very engrossed in the exploration of gender identity and the pull of family and history and other powerful themes and I think therein rests the reward for seeing this book through.

Cielo and Teo are two sharp minds, two fearless hearts, thrust together by chance and bound together by a single purpose, who discover that they have much more in common than the magic pulsing through their veins. Both identify as genderfluid and use their magic to pour with ease into and out of whatever shapes they please. It was utterly nourishing to see them given enough space to explore and frankly discuss their sexuality and gender identity. As Teo and Cielo bond together and we’re treated to a romance that illustrates the power of a well-matched pairing, the story pushes on the deepest questions ingrained into their hearts and blossoms into a thoughtful, emotionally complex and absorbing tale.

“Understanding rustled through me, soft as leaves. It wasn’t quite the same, but I’d often felt I didn’t fit inside the boundaries of the word girl. It reminded me of a country I could happily visit, but the longer I stayed, the more I knew I couldn’t live there all the time. There were moments when I sorely wished to be free of the confines of this body, the expectations it seemed to carry.” 

Teodora’s arc, in particular, was incredible. She was the daughter of a mafia don who had kept the face of the world veiled from her. She was lost in the deep, narrow space between the two forms girls were allowed to take, but that only shored up her resolve to be more than what was preordained for her, speaking each want and ambition like a stone she built her future with. I was rooting for her all along.

All quibbles aside, The Brilliant Death was a solidly crafted and very engaging novel that has representation in sorely needed ways!

If you liked this review please consider leaving me a tip on ko-fi !

Profile Image for Emily May.
1,945 reviews292k followers
September 25, 2018
Teodora di Sangro’s life is built on secrets.

The Brilliant Death sucked me in pretty much instantly when the protagonist - Teo di Sangro, who is a strega - waltzes onto the page and turns a man into a music box for threatening the well-being of her family. As it turns out, this guy is just one more trinket added to Teo's collection. You'd better learn it fast: while Teo's around, no one screws with the di Sangros.

Hell yeah.

From there, a bigger fantasy world opens up, filled with stregas and other Italian-inspired elements like the mafia and it's leader (or "Capo"). Teo has long kept her magic a secret from her family but she is forced to use it more and more when a magically-poisoned letter arrives and leaves her father dying.

The book blends magic and politics really well. Teo must quickly learn to harness her magic for her family's sake, though enemies are everywhere-- one even being her vindictive older brother, Beniamo. The dynamic first-person prose keeps the pages turning at a fast pace; in fact, I would argue that the book could have slowed down in parts, but as criticisms go, that's not a bad one to have.

But you want to know what really made me like this book? I mean more than the strong writing, charismatic narrator and fast-paced political machinations?
Cielo was a wild strega. I was a di Sangro. We could only lose each other.

...CIELO. Be still my beating heart, I think I'm in love. I didn't realize it before reading this book, but a sexy gender fluid strega is absolutely what has been missing from my life. Cielo is... one of those characters. You know the ones. The mysterious, kinda naughty, cheeky characters who you can't help falling in love with. And Cielo - who sometimes appears as a boy and sometimes as a girl - becomes Teo's magic tutor, and the interactions between the two of them are wonderful.

Much of the story is about being a girl, not quite being a girl, and defining yourself outside of other people's expectations. The quiet power of the book's conclusion left me with shivers down my spine. I think the author leaves the story in a good place; only time will tell whether The Brilliant Death is a standalone or a series, but for now at least, it feels like the end.

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Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,083 reviews17.3k followers
August 18, 2020
I had discovered a special way that women could be dangerous. They were trained to play close attention to people. To take them apart, like Luca had done with his clockworks, and study how they ran.

3 1/2 stars. This was so. freaking. interesting. A story following a genderqueer narrator who can turn people into boxes, and her love interest who can literally magically switch sexes, all set in a 19th-century-Italian-inspired world by an Italian-American author. Like, come on, how can I even resist that?

The Brilliant Death follows Teo, who, after her father is murdered, is forced to journey to the capital of her state to attempt to save his life. Along the way, a form-changing witch joins her. She also turns several terrible men into inanimate objects, which is something I am always here for.

Fundamental to this book is a discussion of denial of identity. Lead character Teodora has both denied her identity as a witch and denied her complicated relationship with her gender. I absolutely loved the coherency with which her arc around discovering herself tied together - her character journey is one of my favorite aspects of this book.

And with this, the book becomes a journey about hiding places, and the way we can hide love and hide queerness in plain sight. There’s a clear avoidance of the inevitable outing, which I almost expected throughout the book, and I was incredibly impressed by how well Capetta handled this.

There is also a romance, and it is fairly shockingly good. Cielo, the love interest, is a bit of the Rogue Hero trope in the best way. They sometimes appear as a boy and sometimes as a girl, but are never quite either.

Sort of related - the book’s utter refusal of gender is too powerful. This is #ownvoices for both nonbinary characters and it is just so excellent.

Unfortunately, there are also some cliche moments. A death I didn’t like. Some villain monologuing. Plot is often forgotten for the (admittedly, very good) romance. Though the villains do have shades of well-intentioned extremist, they aren’t very memorable - sisters Azzura and Delfina are the only exceptions. I could have had more of Teo’s love for her family. And I did not vibe with some of the writing. It's mostly really good, and then sometimes sentences just feel weird.

I have to be honest though and say that my #1 favorite moment of this book was when Amy Rose Capetta called her partner Cori “my very own sexy magic tutor” in the acknowledgments. I, personally, love romance.

Arc received via my local bookstore for an honest review.
releases: 8 October 2018.

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Profile Image for Riley.
424 reviews20.8k followers
November 2, 2018
If any of this interests you I highly recommend picking this up:
- 19th century Italy inspired world
- mafia family
- political intrigue
- unique magic system
- queer main character
- genderfluid love interest
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,474 reviews19.2k followers
January 3, 2019
I wanted to love this one bc the queer rep was AMAZING, but I’d be lying if I said the plot didn’t have my eyes glazing over for 90% of the book. It takes a lot for me to like fantasy and this just didn’t do it for me 😕 womp
Profile Image for may ➹.
471 reviews1,900 followers
October 28, 2018
Amy Rose Capetta called her partner her “very own sexy magic tutor” in the acknowledgements and your loss if you don’t want to read a book about sexy magic tutors, magic that can turn men into objects, and gay

// buddy read with felix and bad memory
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,387 followers
Shelved as 'no-thx'
October 31, 2018
I've thought about it and while a lot of the premise of this book sounds amazing, as an Italian person the mafia element makes me way too uncomfortable to even consider reading it.
Profile Image for Hayley ☾ (TheVillainousReader).
384 reviews1,215 followers
November 13, 2018
DNF 32%

When I first decided to DNF this over the weekend I had a lot to say about it. Now, I just don't care. I don't care enough for a roast, I don't care enough for a lengthy review, I just do. not. care. about this book.

At. All.

What I do care about is that I freaking bought this at full price, which I never do and it was so disappointing, and now I'm pissed and I want my money back. So, without further adiu a quick run through.

1. The characters were boring and flat. I didn't care what they thought, who they were or what they were doing. I didn't really understand Teo, she was conflicting to me and I didn't care to figure her out.

2. The world was extremely underdeveloped and everything was shallow. There was a brief overview of the families and the.. land? But that's about it. The magic was cool but also not explained. While reading I constantly felt like I was missing something, there wasn't enough information, no backstories when there should have been, no details, conflicts were smoothed over with no evidence of the smoothing actually happening. Example, one moment Teo and Cielo were "enemies" and the next Cielo was Teo's magic tutor. Like, what? This left me feeling scattered and confused and at 32% I still felt that I knew nothing about anyone, the magic or the world. Everything was shallow, shallow, shallow. The first "villain" and tragic event seemed totally out of nowhere and useless.

4. The writing.. left much to be desired. Straight up, it was bad. Case in point.

Startling muscles lined my legs, and between them sat something that looked like a close cousin to a large, undercooked noodle.

WHO. THE. FUCK. APPROVED. THAT?! I LOVE NOODLES AND NOW I'M TRAUMATIZED. I know it's YA but it's a penis, it's a fucking penis. HOW IS CALLING IT WHAT IT IS WORSE THAN THAT GROSS DESCRIPTION?! It's not a noodle, please do not compare male genitalia to FOOD. It's okay to say penis, it's not a naughty word. It's a fact. It's a penis, a penis, a penis, a penis.

4. The representation of gender fluidity was one of the main reasons I was so excited for this book and I really loved that aspect. It was so awesome and refreshing to read about gender fluid characters and I'm so happy that gender fluidity is getting representation. That being said, personally I did not think this was a good book.

I just didn't like this. I didn't think it was written well and, to me, everything was lacking. Could have been so awesome though.. Ugh, serious buyer's remorse.
Yes, Dee, I am.
Profile Image for julianna ➹.
207 reviews264 followers
April 22, 2019
wow our main characters are a genderfluid couple, amazing

The Brilliant Death is set in an Italy-inspired land, Vinalia, where they’re ruled by the five mafia-esque dons. In this world, stregas are people who have various powers— such as being able to bake food that helps uncover hidden memories or turning someone’s worries into physical form— but most of them are hidden to the outside world. Teo, the protagonist, is the daughter of one of the dons and secretly a strega: she often turns her father’s opponents into items that she uses to adorn her room.

I loved the writing of this book so, so much. It was so beautiful and fluid. just like our mcs ;) The plot also moves from the standard Traveling To The Area to interesting-court-intrigue-and-politics, and uhhhh I would die for that trope.

But what I Really Want To Talk About is the Romance; Teo and Cielo were so cute :') :') :') :') :') and they both bond over their similar strega abilities and :') Not gonna lie I would backflip into a chasm if it meant they would stay together forever

this was just overall a really solid read that I loved; thank you so much to the divinity Amy Rose Capetta for blessing us with this amazing genderqueer couple

Trigger & content warnings for death, sexism, child abandonment, and the explicit skinning of a human.
Profile Image for OutlawPoet.
1,184 reviews70 followers
August 31, 2018
I had to do a little thinking before writing this review.

It’s likely clear from my star rating that I didn’t like it very much. I won’t give it one star because there was something I appreciated about it.

I like the fact that this is a diverse author who gives us a main character who is also diverse. I looked at the author’s website out of curiosity and she self identifies as bi, demi-girl, and queer. And this seems to be who her main character is, which is awesome. I think there will be readers who identify with Teo.

*But* - I think there are better examples of gender fluid characters in fiction out there. Pick up Ursula K. Le Guin, China Mieville, Octavia Butler, and so many others

In this one, the gender issues were clunky. And her final decision when it came to gender? Disappointing.

But I didn’t pick up the book for the diverse main character. I picked it up because it promised fantasy mixed with mafia – and it failed.

The fantasy aspect is hard to wrap your head around. Teo’s magic is silly rather than awe inspiring. And some of it doesn’t make sense. Later in the book, when Teo’s power, um…alters(?) since I’m trying not to spoil things, the author seems to forget a huge aspect of these powers. Completely and utterly forgets it.

And as for the mafia aspect? It was a let down. Rather than bring in any of the cultural and historical mafia roots, we just get the word Capo a lot. And honestly, the Capo should have been been the Capo dei Capi. But nope. We get a few Italian phrases and a few references to ‘the five families’ and that’s it.

All in all, the book was, unfortunately, a disappointment.

It’s not enough to give us diverse characters. Readers deserve rich plots, solid world building, and attention to detail.

*ARC Received via Amazon Vine
Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
523 reviews34.4k followers
Want to read
October 5, 2018
What's this magic and when can I read it?!

I mean:
- A Mafia don's daughter
- A gender fluid character
- Magic!!!
- A queer romance
- Some sort of blood feud?!

Sign me up!! I need this in my life ASAP!!!
This is what I call intriguing. XD
Profile Image for Iris.
544 reviews253 followers
March 12, 2019
4.5 stars

This book was FANTASTIC.

Wait no, sorry, let me try again, I don't think I was clear enough. THIS BOOK WAS REALLY FANTASTIC AND AMAZING AND I LOVED IT SO SO SO MUCH GO READ THIS BOOK.

There we go. That was better.

What? I haven't convinced you to read it yet? Okay fine. Here is a list of (some of) the reasons why you need to read this book:

- The wonderful world building! I fell completely in love with this world. It felt so real and rich and complex. I wanted to know so much more about it, not because it was underdeveloped, but because it was incredibly well developed and focused only on a small amount of the world, leaving me desperate to know more. We were peeking into a small section of a much larger world. And I freaking loved that.

- The cool magic! I meant to lump this in with world building but then I rambled too much so now it's getting it's own section. I adored the magic system in this book! It was unique and dark and well thought out, and I was fascinated by it.

- The queer rep! During this book our main character Teo is questioning their gender identity (I don't know how exactly they identify, but they're very clearly not cis), and Teo's love interest Cielo is genderfluid(!!!).

- Teo! Teo is such a fantastic character and I really freaking love them! So is Cielo! Cielo is my favourite! They're such a wonderful character! I also love the dynamic these two have 😍😍

I will admit the pacing was pretty off, and the plot wasn't necessarily super strong either, but overall? I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH OH MY GOD!!! GO READ IT. YOU WON'T REGRET IT.

***Initial Reaction, January 28, 2019***

This book was so unique, and weird, and cool, and amazing and AHHHHHH I LOVED IT SO MUCH!! I had a few minor quibbles, but IT WAS SO GOOD. Go read it. Right now. RTC.
Profile Image for Beth.
677 reviews572 followers
March 24, 2020
3.5 Stars

This was nice enough, but I wanted something a bit more! The storytelling was well done, but at times it felt a bit rushed. I think I'd of enjoyed this more if it was a duology so it could build the story that little bit more.

The characters were well done and learning about the Strega had me gripped, but as previously mentioned things happened too quickly and I wanted to find out what happened to certain characters.

There were certain twists that I didn't expect and I enjoyed that aspect, there were lots of little things I liked, and lots of little things that I didn't enjoy as much as what I had wanted.

Overall this was enjoyable and I'm glad that I picked it up, plus it has to be said that the cover is stunning!
Profile Image for E. .
321 reviews276 followers
December 17, 2019
Fav. Fav. Fav. Fav. Fav. Fav. Fav. Fav.💖💗💖💞💟💞💗💟💞💞💖💟💟💞💞💖💞💖💗💟💞💖💗💟💞💖💖💗💟💞💞💞💟💞💞💞💞💗💗💖💞💞💟💗💖💖💞💞💖💖💖💖💟💟💟💖💖💗💗💗💞💞💖💖💞💖💖💟💟💖💞💗💖💖💖💟💗💟💖💖💞💟💗💖💟💞💖💗💞💟💖💞💗💗💟💞💖💟💕💞💖💗💟💖💗💞💖💟💗💖💕💟💗💗💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💗💗💕💕💖💖💗


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Profile Image for JulesGP.
412 reviews97 followers
December 18, 2019
First off, Amy Rose Capetta can write her a$$ off. Every sentence, shoot, every clause within a sentence is razor sharp, zigging when you think she’s going to zag. “The day shaded into a subtle blue evening and sounds of a gathering led through the Palazza like a beckoning finger. I followed the shiver of violins, determined to meet the crowds with a face that suited the di Sangro heir. “ If you like that kind of writing, then this is your book.

Five families in this mythical country are being forced to unify under the rule of an ambitious young tyrant who breaks tradition by engaging the outlawed Strega who wield magic. The better word for what he does to them would be enslaving. Teodora, 2nd daughter of Niccolò di Sangro, must journey to meet the Capo along with her younger brother, Luca, to represent. Danger and dire circumstances ratchet up action at every turn but it’s not all darkness and intrigue.

Teo falls hard for the boy that she meets on the road to Vinalia but Cielo is his own mystery. My favorite part of the story is that both Cielo and Teo begin to explore gender fluidity as individuals and then, as a couple, f/f, m/m, f/m, m/f. “Cielo hoped to see me that way again. To press ourselves together in a different combination. I went rampant with rushing blood, the starburst of my pulse in each fingertip.” It’s a powerful thing to watch them try on different skins.

Distinct supporting characters, a world in motion, and a good ending point. Book 2 comes out in January, 2020, so not long to wait at all.

Profile Image for Taylor.
454 reviews134 followers
August 9, 2019
“Understanding rustled through me, soft as leaves. It wasn’t quite the same, but I’d often felt I didn’t fit inside the boundaries of the word girl. It reminded me of a country I could happily visit, but the longer I stayed, the more I knew I couldn’t live there all the time. There were moments when I sorely wished to be free of the confines of this body, the expectations it seemed to carry.”


Well, this was fabulous!

YA fantasy is a genre that I'm starting to feel weary of. I'll always have a special place in my heart for it, but I've found that quite a few YA fantasy stories I've read this year were either derivative or sorely disappointing. So I was prepared to be underwhelmed by The Brilliant Death.

I'm so glad this book proved me wrong.

This 19th century political fantasy centers around our main character Teodora, the daughter of a mafia don with secret magical abilities. Basically, she turns her family's enemies into inanimate knick-knacks that decorate the shelves of her room. How cool is that? Sadly, the role of a daughter does not coincide with the expectations of a son, and her younger brother is expected to take on the family name once her father has passed. However, when the Capo mails a poisoned letter to the patriarch of the di Sangro family and incapacitates Teo's father, she must journey to the capital masquerading as the di Sangro heir to save her family. To transform herself into a boy, she has to team up with a genderfluid shapeshifter named Cielo.

Political games, dangerous magic, deception, and titillating romance ensues. And it was so much fun.

For one, I really enjoyed Teodora as a main character. She was equal amounts level-headed, efficient, and morally ambiguous, which I liked. Her devotion to her family and ruthless nature matched wonderfully with the mafia politics and scheming in here. Cielo was also wonderful. They were just...so badass. I've said this before, but I'm a sucker for sly, trouble-making characters with a healthy amount of sass, okay?

Their dynamic was, for lack of a better word, delicious. I was worried, at first, that their romance was going to be rushed, but it really worked. It didn't overtake the story, which has been a major problem that I've had with other YA fantasy books lately. Amy Rose Capetta balanced everything perfectly.

The magic also appealed to me. Teo is a strega, which means she has magic in her blood. Magic is outlawed in the country of Vinalia, and the Capo has a vendetta against the five ruling families that he eventually wants under his thumb. Teo's growing shapeshifting abilities allowed for a lot of intrigue, and built upon some fascinating themes that I really appreciated.

I just loved that Capetta iconically bashed the idea of a gender binary into a million pieces. Cielo is sometimes a boy, and sometimes a girl in this book. They clearly tell Teo that they prefer to be addressed with pronouns based on whatever gender they currently occupy, but I liked that Cielo made it clear that those specific pronouns never fully encapsulated their identity. Teo also goes on a gender-journey in this book, and discovers that the specific labels that go along with being a girl don't really work for her. She discovers a lot of things about her identity, which lead to some wonderful discussions of gender.

This is a badass fantasy story. Teo isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, and there were quite a few surprises that had me on the edge of my seat. To be honest, the lightening-fast pacing of this book almost had me wishing this book were longer, mostly because I loved the world and didn't want to leave our characters so soon.

The conclusion to The Brilliant Death was entirely satisfying, but I'm still very excited for The Storm of Life to come out. I just need more of Teo and Cielo in my life. This was the queer fantasy that I've needed for ages, and I highly recommend it!


“But that’s it,” Cielo said. “We’re not like them. Or rather, we are and we aren’t. People hold a deep fear of complication.”
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
82 reviews602 followers
January 6, 2019
AMAZING QUEER REP 🙌🏼 the plot didn’t hook me as much as I’d have liked, but overall it’s a solid story. Definitely recommend giving this one a try if it interests you!
Profile Image for Elias.
247 reviews18 followers
December 7, 2020
*This text might contain mild spoilers*
DNF 130 pages in. I was so so excited about this book. But it turned out to be the biggest book disappointment of 2019 so far.💀 But let's start with the good things I guess.

1. It's an easy read, in the sense that the pages just ran away from me.
2. Queer characters!
3. Discussions about gender.

And now, the bad things:
1. Discussions about gender. The author is non-binary, but the way they talked about gender and sex made me very uncomfortable. The love interest of the story is gender fluid. I'm not gender fluid, but holy shit the way she/he was described made me cringe. Cielo is a shapeshifter, and on the summary of the books he's described as a strega (witch) who can effortlessly swap back and forth between female and male, human and animal' like yeah gender is the same as shifting into an animal I guess? As Cielo shifts into his 'girlish' form, it's made EXTREMELY clear that she's got boobs and her face is sooo soft because that's how a woman always looks I guess.

The worst part is how the narrative immediately switches to she/her pronouns. Cause now her body looks like that, she has to use she/her pronouns now, and vice versa. And I'm sure you can imagine how that makes me, a trans masc person feel, since it's basically telling that if your body looks like this that's what you are.

There's a lot of similar stuff about the main character, Teodora. For some spoiler reason, she's decided that she has to become a boy (meaning that she has to pass as a boy). Newsflash! Having a body that would be AMAB doesn't make you a boy!! Shocking, I know?? Teo, having to become a boy, is something that's repeated every god damn page. Teo also comes to some kind of realization after Cielo describes his gender how she's not your typical girl, and that it would be easier to be a boy, which honestly just sounded like she doesn't like the gender roles that the patriarchy upholds, that doesn't make you trans (but that might be something that gets unpacked later on, who knows). She also describes herself being "stuck" as female, which again, it doesn't work like that. Gender isn't what your body looks like, it's your head.

I feel like I have to move on, so I'm just gonna let this part speak for itself. 😩


Ah yes I need to have SQUARE TEETH to be a boy, noted!!

Again, all this might get unpacked later on, but I saw no sign of it as I skipped towards the end, since it's still described in a similar way.

MOVING ON, Teo is overall a really badly written character. Her main motive is supposed to be protecting her family, even tho there's nothing on page showing what her family means to her.
She's also forced to do some horrible stuff and people that's supposed to mean a lot to her dies and is in danger, yet it doesn't seem to touch her? Like in once scene that's just a couple of pages after something that's supposed to be a tragedy she's just swimming and thirsting after Cielo as if nothing ever happened??

Anyways, I don't want to spend another second in the company of this book, even tho there's a lot left to rant about. Let's just say that nothing else in this story made sense either. The magic system is a big ass mess, and apparently, it's supposed to be Italian mafia inspired, something that I would never know if I hadn't been told by Goodreads.

I just wish that I had never known about this book, like ever.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,117 reviews1,343 followers
April 12, 2019
Unique YA fantasy is hard to find, but this is one! The worldbuilding is inspired by pre-unification 19th century Italy. Teodora is a daughter of the mafia Di Sangro family--she's also a strega who turns enemies into inanimate objects. She has to journey to the capital when her father falls magically ill. Along for the ride is Cielo, a genderfluid shape-shifting strega. Thoughtful interrogations of politics, gender identity, and the patriarchy. Fantastic audiobook narration too!
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
587 reviews818 followers
October 22, 2018
4 stars

If I could pick three words to describe this book with, it would be "lush," "conspiratorial," and "queer."

Because this book is "lush" in almost every way:

- It's magic system--with the strega who are going through a time of change as people attempt to exploit their magic and use it for nefarious purposes--fully embodies the word "lush" with the elegant way the magic works and its smooth execution.
- "Lush" in the way that the characters are rich and developed and shaped in a way that you understand who they are outside of a stereotype.
- Family and friendship and romance are all woven together into a "lush" tapestry of personal connections with the characters that make this book wholly relatable on a deeper level.

"Conspiratorial" in many aspects:

- The way that Teodora sneaks around and "conspires" to get what she wants, no matter what means necessary. If it's through working with another strega or turning her own brother into an owl, she will do what she needs to achieve her goal.
- How secrets, lies, betrayal, and political machinations of the Capo and other players in this game add to the "conspiratorial" nature of this book.

And queer in both of the main characters:

- The romance was so solid and I totally ship Teodora and Cielo together!!!!
- Shape-shifting multi-gendered tutor (aka Cielo) who is literally my favorite with all the swoons. I absolutely love Cielo and there were definitely some spicy moments between Teo and Cielo!
- Also, not in the main characters because in the very last line of the acknowledgements Amy Rose Capetta calls her wife "my very own sexy magic tutor" and if that's not enough to convince you to read this book, I don't know what is.

Overall, there's so much to love with the strong characters and great worldbuilding, but something just didn't click with me personally.

I don't really know why, but I was a little bit confused, even at the end of the book, by what happened. I ended up understanding the overarching plot, but the scenes sometimes just didn't really sink in for me. I'm not sure if this was because some important scenes needed more emotional weight or, alternatively, that I sort of strayed while I was actively reading because some scenes didn't engage me enough.

If this book rated me as a reader, it would probably only be a 4 or something, because sometimes it feels like I wasn't paying attention enough, even though I really was trying to obsess over this novel.

In the end, I did end up enjoying both the concept and a lot of the execution, I just feel like it was missing some of that oomph that would have launched this into a higher-than-4-star-read!

This is a really solid fantasy, and I definitely recommend to anyone looking for queer characters, Italian-inspired fantasy, magic, and the girl-disguised-as-a-boy trope!

Thank you so much to Penguin Teen and Bookish First for providing me with an advance reader's copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Vicky Who Reads
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
August 22, 2019
I've been mulling for several days what I want to say about this book. I enjoyed while I was reading it, but I can barely remember anything substantial from the book now. I liked the many odd ornamental things that main character Teodora transforms men into, I liked the magic, I liked the fluid nature of Teodora's identity; however, all I can really say now is this was an okay story, rather than something that really moved me.
Profile Image for ♠ TABI⁷ ♠.
Author 15 books478 followers
September 24, 2019
"We're not like them. Or rather, we are and we aren't. People hold a deep fear of complication.'


There's a lot to unpack about this book. First off, it is so, so, so queer which is both one of the strongest and yet also the most confusing things of this book. I understand fluidity and stumbling your way towards finding who you really are. But I guess, in something that goes through rounds and rounds of editing, wouldn't the journey of these characters have been a little more precise than it actually was??

I'm mostly talking about Teo, who in the middle of the book claims she (using this pronoun in my review because it's used the most in the book) realizes that living in a woman's body isn't exactly what she wants all the time . . . BUT THEN near the end of the book the magic (which is like a mostly-sentient conscience powerful thing idk man) decides that a male body isn't for Teo anymore, and she also most decisively says she is a daughter, etc and etc. I'm not trying to lock this character into a gender box, I'm just trying to sort out a bit more precise definitions . . . BUT THEN nothing in life is ever cut-and-dried easy boxes, so I should probably stop complaining about this aspect.

But there was just enough inconsistency about many major parts of the book that inevitably drove me to disappointment.


Look, I wanted this book so bad. I love the girl-dresses-as-a-boy trope in all its differing shades, so a book where the girl LITERALLY becomes a boy 'cause magic??? Oh yes please give me all the drama and intrigue and plot to go with that concept. Except, this didn't turn out how I thought it would be at all. In fact, this became such a hodge-podge rush of info-dumps, bad development, and a too-much, too-fast focus on the romantic arc that shattered my expectations so much it kinda physically hurt.

And the frustrating part is that this book kept "faking" towards an interesting plot twist, only to end up taking a cliche turn like it did the last twenty-eight times. It just tried TOO HARD when maybe it should have taken a step back, scraped away the ambitious mafia plotting, focused more on a character arc with some clearer definitions/realizations, and also given me some more time to care about the offed-characters. And while I still really love the concept, Cielo is a darling and I love them so much, ultimately this book just felt rushed and confusing in so many ways which gave a very strong bad writing vibe for me, so I didn't end up liking it as much as I wanted to. I still want to love this more, and maybe the sequel will give me the potential this story holds somewhere inside.

In-depth spoiler thoughts about the plot/characters:

Overall, this book was decent . . . but it wasn't great. There's a lot of good going for it in many departments, but I never felt like it was executed properly for full brilliance ahahaha. It was more like a brilliant death of my expectations because of moderate and shaky development in the plot, characters serving the plot rather than seeming like living, breathing people who will ruin you with their death, and just . . . it tried TOO HARD but unfortunately not hard enough.
Profile Image for Mads.
179 reviews287 followers
February 24, 2021
literally nothing happened in this book. it had a plot, but everything was always resolved so quickly that there was never any reason to focus on anything which just meant it was boring to read.

also, i know this book is own voices, but the gender fluid rep being based on shapeshifters because they can physically change their shape to match the gender they want at any given moment? yeah that felt really weird.

i think it’s quite clear that i won’t be reading the sequel any time soon.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 11 books1,222 followers
July 25, 2021
This is such an immersive, well-written fantasy! I love the Italian-inspired world and the gender fluid lovers, and the magic system is really well thought out.
Profile Image for Karima chermiti.
801 reviews156 followers
December 3, 2018

Family is fate.

I must admit that I stumbled on this book by chance and the title just drew me in so I read the synopsis and boy was I hooked like never before. I was so intrigued and felt slightly confused why I didn’t see this book being read by many people cause you know it’s a YA fantasy, it has an original elements to the story, it felt like something different and that’s why readers from this genre always demand, something new, something bold, something beautiful so I was wondering why is no one reading this book. I was honestly baffled by the lack of enthusiasm for this book but I digress. Let’s just talk about The Brilliant Death.

The brilliant death takes place in the fantastical world called Vinalia where five familias share land, power and ambitions and it revolves around a girl named Teodora who is the daughter of the head of one of those familias. Teodora has kept the secret of her magic hidden her whole life but she knew how to wield it without suspicion and to eliminate the enemies of her familia even if she couldn’t take credit for it.

I had discovered a special way that women could be dangerous. They were trained to play close attention to people. To take them apart, like Luca had done with his clockworks, and study how they ran

But all it changes when her father gets poisoned in a move to try and murder all the familias heads by the capo, the man who united Vinalia. Now, Teodora has to go to the capital to search for the antidote but the journey is dangerous and the capital is a place where treason, death and betrayals are a common thing.

You know when I think about the things that I didn’t love about this book, they’re nearly non-existent. I was bothered a little bit by how this book felt like a one woman show, or in better words, it was all about the protagonist but as the story progressed that become less and less true. I also didn’t like how few things went too easy for her, like the author didn’t really to harm her heroine, some of the situations were resolved quickly. But other than these two complaints, there is nothing else that I didn’t like.

The brilliant death is an Italian inspired Fantasy and that’s honestly something I haven’t read before so the novelty was refreshing, intriguing and was done very well in my opinion. There is no confusion in the book about the inspiration of the story.

The world building was done in a very good day, there is no information dumping in this book which is something I absolutely admire. The author gives us a very clear picture of the world without feeling like you’re being lectured in geography and history. It all felt natural and I found the world fascinating. It’s not extremely complex, it’s more straightforward but it’s linked together through myths, religion and magic and that added a very interesting aspect to it.

The story in itself is sitting on your edge of your seat exciting. There is this sense of danger and urgency that never lets you relax for a moment. You get to feel the delicate situation of our heroine, you get to feel her desperation, you get to understand the frantic nature of her mission and how it’s a matter of life or death. The pace of the book translates that well and how the story progresses quickly, without losing momentum and in a smooth satisfying way.

The characters in this book are pure gold. I’m little let down by the Capo, I didn’t see that much of him but I wasn’t really bothered by that cause alongside the awesome strong female protagonist, there is Cielo, another strega who can appear as both a girl or a boy and who is an ally to our protagonist in her mission. I won’t reveal a lot about the nature of their relationship but it is so good and so delicious. I loved Cielo and Teodora as individuals and I loved them together as partners and I loved how they fit together so well and how you never feel it being forced or fake. Their chemistry is sizzling and their connection is real.

Understanding rustled through me, soft as leaves. It wasn’t quite the same, but I’d often felt I didn’t fit inside the boundaries of the word girl. It reminded me of a country I could happily visit, but the longer I stayed, the more I knew I couldn’t live there all the time.

The representation in this book is done very well and all the conversation about gender fluidity and how we shouldn’t let other people view and expectation define how we see ourselves and diminish our worth as people.

The ending of the book was absolutely powerful and delightful and it gave me everything I ever wanted. The brilliant death is a solid Standalone Fantasy book but I could see a possibility of a sequel considering the layers and complexity of the story. Either way, I’m so grateful that I stumbled on this book. You should to, I mean, stumble on it too.

Life could be brilliant in so many ways, a gem with hundreds of facets. Death had no shine to it, at least none that I could see.

Profile Image for Madalyn (Novel Ink).
491 reviews823 followers
December 3, 2018
This review originally appeared on Novel Ink.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you probably know by now that reviews of fantasy books from me are few and far between these days. As my reading tastes have changed over the past couple years, I’ve slowly gravitated away from fantasy, and it takes a special book to make me want to pick up the genre. The Brilliant Death was that kind of book. I fell in love with Amy Rose Capetta’s writing after reading Echo After Echo last year and was eagerly anticipating this follow-up, and it did not disappoint.

In The Brilliant Death, we follow Teodora, the daughter of one of the most powerful mafia families in Vinalia. However, not even her father knows of her magical abilities– which she has been using for years to quietly take down the Di Sangro family’s enemies. The book begins with Teo’s father, along with all of the other heads of the Five Families who hold power in Vinalia, being poisoned by the land’s new ruler, the Capo. Teo sets off for the capital in search of an antidote for her father and of some answers as to what the heck is happening in Vinalia.

I was utterly enchanted by the world of The Brilliant Death. The setting is perfectly described, and it’s easy to see the Italian influence in the descriptions of the art, the food, the politics, the church, and, of course, in the magic. The magic system is one of the most unique ones I’ve ever read; it involves people called streghe (singular: strega… which actually means “witch” in Italian!) who have specific magical abilities. Not all of them have the same ability, but the magic functions in a similar way no matter what form it takes. Our main character, for example, can change other people into objects. We also learn, along with Teo, that when a strega dies, their abilities transfer to others. This has led to a rise in streghe killing other streghe in order to gain more power. The magic almost felt like a character in and of itself; it was always present and even spoke at times. It was well-crafted and made sense while still feeling whimsical.

Also, I tend to gravitate toward and enjoy political fantasies, and The Brilliant Death blended magic and politics perfectly. There’s lots of scheming, plots, and intrigue that keep you on your toes the entire book. It also served to make the world feel all the more atmospheric, and the politics definitely upped the stakes of the story. There’s a lot of discussion on how trapped and stifled Teo feels as a daughter in a world that favors sons. She has to contend with these attitudes coming from both her family (specifically her father and brothers) as well as from the outside world. The men in Teo’s life constantly underestimate her, and, well, that never works out too well for them in the end. The Brilliant Death challenges the cishetero patriarchy at every turn, and I was here for it.

Which brings me to my other favorite part… the love interest!!! Cielo, another strega who has the ability to change their own form, becomes Teo’s magic tutor, and the two have to manage their budding romance with, you know, saving the world. Cielo is a genderfluid strega who often shifts forms and uses both he/him and she/her pronouns throughout the novel. I’m 100% in love with them, tbh. They’re exactly the kind of witty love interest I think readers will swoon over. I loved reading their interactions with Teo! Their romance made my heart so happy. Also, I thought the way gender was explored in The Brilliant Death was wonderful– I’m a cis woman, so take my opinions with a grain of salt, but I thought the discussion was excellent.

As always, Amy Rose Capetta’s stunning prose is another standout element of this book. Her writing is so lyrical and is perfectly suited to this queer, magical fantasy story.

Overall, if you’re looking for a unique YA fantasy read this fall, I can’t recommend The Brilliant Death highly enough! Whether you’re a seasoned or skeptical reader of fantasy, I think this story will enchant pretty much everyone.
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
543 reviews3,551 followers
January 10, 2019
I would die for the characters, they were literally my favourite part of this book, the way gender was discussed with so much nuance through two genderfluid MCs was so amazing and the romance between them was VERY cute (albeit slightly underdevelopped). Other than that, i only started caring about the plot towards the end because it felt very much scattered through over half of the book. That being said I really want to know what happens next so i'm definitely going to read the next book!
Profile Image for Elizabeth .
378 reviews55 followers
January 15, 2021
It seems as though everyone loves this novel. There is a sea of glowing praise for this novel, and I do agree with the consensus: this is a fantastic fantasy novel that most people will fall in love with. I, however, am not one of those people.

This book had some amazing aspects, like its discussion of gender roles and family, with its positives and negatives. Other than that though this novel was decidedly not for me.

Firstly, the writing was just very strange to me? Things were described in a very strange way (a dick is referred to as a "limp noodle" and when I read that my mind just went blank), the dialogue felt choppy at times, and it just overall felt strange to me. I hate comparing books to other books, but I've read "Once & Future" by this author, and I loved the writing in that novel, so it was strange to me that the writing in this felt so different (granted, I know "Once & Future" was co-written, but still, the writing felt so different for me).

Second of all, the romance that is supposed to be at the forefront of this novel? Um where? It felt so underdeveloped and just so strange at times? I felt such little chemistry between these two and the scenes with them together just felt very rushed and underdeveloped. I had hoped for a cute, sweet romance yet it felt like it happened so quickly with really no back story.

The characters? Were also so underdeveloped and just so dry (I'm very eloquent, I know, can you believe I'm a history major and write 5 billion essays every semester). None of the characters felt like real people, and it was so easy to spot who were the villains and who were the good guys. I felt like every character had one trait or one goal, and that was their entire personality. The main villains felt so weak, most of the side characters were, to be frank, useless, and even the main character Teodora and Cielo the love interest were flat. Again, they both had basically 1 to 2 goals and...that's their entire personality. Also, on a side note, I hated (and I mean absolutely despised) Teo. She just pissed me off so much for really no reason that I can actually put to words but I was almost rooting for her to be murdered by the end of this so something interesting would happen. She's actually a fairly likeable character but I just could not stand her for a goddamn second.

The plot also dragged quite a bit and was quite predictable. Now, being predictable is not inherently a bad thing; a novel can be predicted from the first page but it can still be interesting and have a good plot and story. With this novel however the plot is just so weirdly paced. At times it was fast and full of action and other times it was so slow and uninteresting. I think if you like the characters you can get past the fact that the plot of this barely exists but since I didn't care about any of the characters, I just didn't care at all.

Finally, the world building and the magic in this were just so confusing to me? The world building made sense, but I felt like it could have been explained a bit more because it felt fairly jumbled (5 families fighting for control but this one random dude poisons all of them and is suddenly the head of the country? Okay?). The magic in this however confused (please forgive my brain, it's too jumbled from university) the shit out of me. It just made no sense to me? It's explained how you get magic but at the same time I have so many questions about that. I'm so confused about how the magic works, the different powers people have, how Teo and Cielo's magic work (like they basically have the same exact damm magic yet it acts completely differently but its the same goddamn thing??). I was just so confused and underwhelmed by the magic and the world in this, and I know there's a sequel where more gets explained I'm sure but I just don't plan on reading it.

However, although this review is hella long and I gave this book a lot of negatives, I do wholeheartedly believe that "it's not you, it's me" in this book's case. There's a lot of great potential in this novel, and I think a lot of people will really, really love it, so I would strongly recommend it. Overall it's a solid fantasy, so although I didn't particularly enjoy it, I'm positive others will (also the author is a great human being, I will definitely read more from them in the future).

Also, (the last thing I swear!) this is a "mafia" story but where tf is the mafia aspect. I don't know if I just have a different idea of what mafia stories mean, but this felt so tame and vanilla for what is supposed to be this bad ass mafia family.
Profile Image for Pani.
114 reviews30 followers
July 1, 2019
I literally crawled my way through this book. Although the plot was somehow exciting, In my opinion it lacked in originality and relatable characters.
I will continue reading the other books in the series.
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