Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Rondo Allegro by Sherwood Smith

I’d had this one on my TBR pile for some time, so (as is typical for me) I had forgotten everything about its description.

Over the past few days, I’ve been opening books on my Kindle, reading a few pages, and discarding them from the device, in a drive to reduce the number of books on the Kindle. This means I’ve mostly been opening up books I thought I might not actually like. Rondo Allegro wasn’t actually one of those — I have liked all but one book I’ve read by Sherwood Smith — but it does mean I’ve been reading with an eye toward discarding books, not finishing them, which has undoubtedly made me more critical about every book I’ve opened in the past week.

I mention all this to say: I’m often baffled by which book catches my attention and draws me in vs which book doesn’t.

Rondo Allegro starts slowly and proceeds at a stately pace, yet it caught me in a way that all the recent discards just didn’t.

It’s not SFF; it’s historical — a very, very, very slow-burn Napoleonic-era romance. Here’s what Goodreads says about it

In Palermo, sixteen-year-old singer-in-training Anna Maria Ludovisi is married by her dying father to Captain Henry Duncannon, the Perennial Bachelor. Mere minutes after the wedding he sets sail.

The threat of French invasion causes Anna to flee to Paris. At the end of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte is transforming France; Anna must transform herself into a professional singer in order to survive.

in 1805, Anna’s opera company is traveling through Spain when events bring the long-missing Captain Duncannon and his forgotten wife back together again, as the English, Spanish, and French fleets converge for battle off the Cape of Trafalgar.

For Henry Duncannon as well as Anna, everything changes: the demands of war, the obligation of family, the meaning of love, and the concept of home. Can they find a new life together?

Now, as I said, I did not remember anything about this description when I started the book. I did look up the definition of “Rondo Allegro” — “A work or movement, often the last movement of a sonata, having one principal subject that is stated at least three times in the same key and to which return is made after the introduction of each subordinate theme.”

Okay, well, I suppose. There is one main protagonist and three major sections to the story, so maybe that fits? Anna carries the story, with rather brief bits from Captain Duncannon’s pov. The story is divided into three sections: Anna, married but completely separate from her husband, basically on her own, growing up and surviving as an opera singer; Anna, reunited with her husband, each of them just getting to know the other — this section is brief but important; and Anna in England, playing the role of Captain Duncannon’s wife while waiting for him to return to his home.

During the long first section, I occasionally felt mildly impatient for the two of them to be thrown together again, but not very impatient. I liked Anna, I liked her friend and companion, and I liked her coming-of-age story. She makes mistakes, but not incredibly stupid ones; and she gets into trouble, but not really awful trouble. I liked her as a character, too — nice, but not saccharine; talented, but not over-the-top gifted. However, I must admit that I did find the story more compelling after Anna and Captain Duncannon are thrown together again.

This is not a suspenseful novel, thankfully. I so appreciate a slow-build low-angst romance that does not depend on misunderstandings and hurt feelings. At no point does the reader want to shake the main characters and shout, “MY GOD, JUST TELL HIM/HER THE TRUTH!” There’s a secret, sure, but anybody can see it’s not that deep or that dark. When the truth comes out, it’s a sweet and charming revelation, not earth-shattering.

So, yeah, this one is a keeper. Rather than removing it from the device, I dropped it into the “historical romance” folder of my Kindle, because I expect one of these days I will want to re-read it.

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