Waterfall by Lisa BergrenFebruary 1, 2011; David C. Cook
*I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In Waterfall, American teenager Gabi Betarrini accidently finds herself in Fourteenth-Century Italy . . . Knights. Swords. Horses. Armor. And Italian hotties. Most American teens want an Italian vacation, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives there with their archaeologist parents. Stuck on yet another hot, dusty dig, they are bored out of their minds... until they place their hands atop handprints in an ancient tomb and find themselves catapulted into the Fourteenth Century and in the middle of a fierce battle between knights bent on killing one another. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Waterfall is an example of why books shouldn't be categorized into genres. It is cataloged under Christian historical fiction, two genres that many people dislike. This will likely keep most people from reading Waterfall. Such a shame. The book never hits you over the head with Christian themes - rather it has basic references to faith. And as a historical fiction book, it is as detailed and exciting as any high fantasy or paranormal novel.
Waterfall is much like its name. A slow stream that initially lulls the reader but quickly builds pace and soon throws you straight down the waters of Niagara. I thought Waterfall was only okay at first, but I became attached to the characters and story to the point when it became really exciting and could hardly put it down.
I was impressed at what a believable story Bergren created. Obviously, you have to suspend some sense of reality to believe that a girl could place her hands on a spot in an Etruscan tomb and somehow be thrust back into 14th century Italy...let alone be able to survive in said century without being thought insane or evil. Bergren made sure Gabi knew enough in her modern life to live in 14th century Italy. Because of her parents' jobs as architects and frequent travels, she was fluent in Italian, knew a great deal about medieval history, and even traditional herbal medicine. Add to that some mad skills as a fencer and Gabi is set to go back in time 600 years. I was impressed that the author made sure to cover all the small details of Gabi's life to make the time travel work. In a less skilled author's hands, Gabi's transition to the 14th century would have been laughable. With Bergren's writing, it almost felt real.
Similarly, Bergren does a wonderful job of world-building (because 14th century Italy requires just as much world building as a high fantasy novel). The reader can see every inch of the castle, the surrounding countryside, and Siena. No detail is left uncovered. This slows the pace of the book somewhat, but it doesn't drag. I thought it was a nice balance. There was enough action and amusing cultural adaptation scenes that the story felt like more than an info dump.
Gabi is a great leading lady. She's the perfect time traveler. Brave, cunning, and adaptable. She was quickly able to change from her modern Italian to an older style - which, realistically or not, sounded more like a Jane Austen novel than Shakespeare. She also figured out much of the local politics and motivations behind characters' actions, particularly Marcello's fiance. She is loyal to her younger sister, stubbornly insisting on doing everything possible to help Lia. Gabi loves passionately, but also reasonably. She doesn't lose her head over a boy. Plus, she can wield a sword! She's a fierce fighter and won't let others stand up on her behalf without her support. Gabi fits the description of most strong female characters in current YA, but what she lacks in uniqueness, she makes up for in likability.
Marcello is our leading man. He reminds me of a lot of fantasy heroes. A swashbuckling soldier. The big, brawny guy with a heart of gold. His passion is great enough that he'd give up all his family's ambitions to be with Gabi. Despite being willing to abandon his family's calculated marriage plans, he defends his family and their castle with his life, and of course will fight anyone and anything to help Gabi find her sister. I liked Marcello but he doesn't do it for me quite yet. Perhaps I'll feel more affection towards him in subsequent books. The characters I like best are Luca, Marcello's funny, carefree best friend, and Fortino, Marcello's sickly yet intellectual brother. I'd love to see Fortino and Gabi together.
Waterfall is a historical adventure story. It's a fun ride watching the Gabi adjust to a new world and seeing her and her new compatriots fight battle after battle in defense of their land and Gabi's sister. A great start to a new series.