Fiction Review: The Hearts of All on Fire, by Alana White


book cover

Florence, 1473. An impossible murder. A violent conspiracy. A serpent in the ranks.

Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci returns to Florence from a government mission to find his dreams of success shattered. Life is good—but then a wealthy merchant dies from mushroom poisoning at Guid’Antonio’s Saint John’s Day table, and Guid’Antonio’s servant is charged with murder. Convinced of the youth’s innocence and fearful the killer may strike again, Guid’Antonio launches a private investigation into the merchant’s death, unaware that at the same time powerful enemies are conspiring to overthrow the Florentine Republic—and him.

A clever, richly evocative tale for lovers of medieval and Renaissance mysteries everywhere, The Hearts of All on Fire is a timeless story of family relationships coupled with themes of love, loss, betrayal and, above all, hope in a challenging world.


Disclaimer: Although I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

Sometimes, I make preliminary notes before I start reading a new book. Here are a few of mine:

Haven’t read book one. Am I missing anything?

Hey, cute dog on the cover!

I recognize the name Vespucci. Oh wait, this dude was real? His relative is Amerigo Vespucci? Ooh! I’ve heard of him.

And then I opened the book.

The first thing I noted here is that there were four pages of characters, and they were definitely needed. Some, such as Amerigo, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and Leonardo da Vinci were at once familiar, but I didn’t know whether others were real or a figment of author Alana White’s imagination. I referred to the list often as I was reading and was thankful to have it. I also made use of the included Historical Note and the map of Italy in the 15th century. There are several major players in the narrative, even though some of them don’t make an appearance. Their actions off the page have consequences for the characters we get to know over the course of the story.

With a title taken from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, this is a fascinating read. White has captured Florence in such detail that I now want to go visit. The positive and negative sides of the city are described, from the beautiful buildings to the trash (and other detritus) on the streets. Both rich and poor have their say, and the good and bad come from both segments of the population. The plot is full of political intrigue, much based on real life events, where the heads of city-states conspire against each other including the Pope. Even the crimes mentioned in the book come from White’s extensive research. There are actions that will seem distasteful to 21st century sensibilities, but I’m a firm believer in context and historical fact. We need to understand that these things were considered acceptable in the 15th century. This isn’t a “clean” book by any stretch, but I don’t think I would’ve liked it half as much if it had been written in that way.

The Hearts of All on Fire is the second in the Guid’Antonio Vespucci Mystery series by Alana White, but I don’t believe you need to have read the first title. I downloaded a sample of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin after finishing, and discovered it’s set seven years after the events of this book. If anything, therefore, I think having read them in publication order would’ve given away certain things that still remained mysteries in 1473. I’d far rather read them in chronological order.

Oh, and a final note to dog lovers: you don’t need to fear reading this. That’s all I can say without revealing a plot point. Trust me.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Publication Date: 25 September 2022

Book Information



Author in Florence

Alana White is the author of the Guid’Antonio mystery series set in Renaissance Florence, Italy. Like Guid’Antonio, Alana loves dogs. While he dwells in 15th-Century Florence with his brave cane corso Italiano, Alana currently lives in Nashville, TN with her husband, their cat, and two boisterous schnauzer boys.


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