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The Ancestor


The Ancestor

Danielle Trussoni, the internationally bestselling author of the Angelology series, returns with THE ANCESTOR, a sultry gothic mystery set in the Italian Alps that plunges readers into the depths of one family’s legacy --- and how far they are willing to go to preserve it.

Alberta Monte is at a crossroads. Twenty-eight years old and freshly grieving yet another miscarriage, Bert has recently separated from her husband, Luca, and is learning to adjust to her new normal. But the glossy envelope stamped from Italy and addressed to Alberta Isabelle Eleanor Vittoria Montebianco that arrives at her home one day is anything but normal. When Bert opens the mysterious letter, she finds heavy, official-looking paper marked by an unusual seal --- and a lot of Italian gibberish. Though she is in the middle of a trial separation from Luca, she knows he will be able to figure out what it means.

By sheer coincidence, Bert and Luca’s grandparents all came from the same small, remote Italian village, Nevenero, a poor cluster of homes marked by a lack of sunshine and the dark, secret-filled castle that reigns over it. With all of Bert’s relatives deceased, Luca encourages her to ask his grandmother, Nonna, to help her translate the documents. But when Bert approaches Nonna, she is shocked to learn that her last name is not Monte, but Montebianco, and she is the heiress to a vast estate and nobility in Nevenero. That’s not all, though. In a horrifying bout of terror, Nonna reveals that there is a monster lurking in the mountains of Nevenero, one that stole dozens of children from the villagers, leaving only pain and devastation behind. And Bert’s grandfather, Giovanni Montebianco, who fled a lifetime of class and wealth for a new start in America, knew more about the monster than Bert’s family ever let on.

"THE ANCESTOR is perfectly gothic in its atmosphere, and the mystery, though tantalizing, is the kind that sinks into your bones rather than turn you away with cheap gimmicks. There are no jump scares here, but the Montebianco family will still chill you to your core."

With the aid and supervision of a delegate from her family’s estate, Bert and Luca travel to Italy to meet with her family’s --- now her --- lawyers to discuss the inheritance. They enjoy a brief reconciliation before a family secret forces them apart, leaving Bert alone to face her family’s legacy. When she learns that her grand-uncle’s wife still resides in the Montebianco castle, she agrees to fly there via helicopter --- of course, there is no other way --- to learn about the Montebianco legacy and begin to take stock of her inheritance. She finds out along the way that while the Montebianco estate has some movable goods and political pull, it is deeply in debt from lack of coordination and care over the years as the family has dwindled to only Giovanni’s descendants, most of whom, including Bert, were not aware of his noble background.

When Bert arrives in Nevenero, she is shocked by just how remote the tiny village and castle are. With nothing but mountains surrounding the estate, she can understand why Nonna called it a land without sun. But she will soon find out that the truths hidden within the Montebianco castle are far, far darker. What first seems like a dream --- who among us wouldn’t want to find out we’re actually royalty? --- quickly becomes a nightmare as Bert learns that the Montebianco family has a tragic and destructive history, full of mysterious deaths, powerful leaders and an everlasting air of the otherworldly.

As Bert investigates the rumors of the monsters that hide in the hills and her own family history, she finds disturbing links between the two, most notably in her own grandfather’s mother, a woman born with severe deformities and darkness in her heart. At first, Bert is relieved to learn that issues with childbearing run in her family, but as time goes on, she starts to wonder why the stillbirths and early deaths of so many of her relatives were kept secret for so long. Is it possible that Bert has inherited more than difficult pregnancies, and that her family’s genes hold something far more evil? Blending a bewitching sense of place with an easily relatable heroine, Trussoni writes the perfect rainy-day suspense read that will grip anyone from start to finish.

I feel as though readers will fall on one of two sides with Bert: they will either read along for the mystery and tense air and think very little of her, or find her far too easygoing and submissive. She’s not the most compelling or memorable protagonist, but THE ANCESTOR is about so much more than its characters. The castle, the village and the mountains themselves are all characters in their own right, and though it’s possible that Trussoni could have pushed Bert just a bit further, I found the novel to be perfectly enjoyable and unputdownable all the same.

At first, I was expecting a luscious, wine-fueled gothic mystery with plenty of Renaissance-inspired imagery. I got precisely that and far more. Trussoni is a gifted and cadenced writer. Even when the premise is somewhat unbelievable --- Bert literally jets off to Italy with a stranger the very day she learns she is the heiress to a castle and a Countess --- Trussoni keeps you glued to the page with her vivid descriptions, lyrical prose and inviting mysteries.

THE ANCESTOR is perfectly gothic in its atmosphere, and the mystery, though tantalizing, is the kind that sinks into your bones rather than turn you away with cheap gimmicks. There are no jump scares here, but the Montebianco family will still chill you to your core.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 1, 2020

The Ancestor
by Danielle Trussoni