Tracy L. Slatton’s Immortal is a very promising debut novel, suggesting this is an author worth noting. The story doesn’t quite deliver on its ambitious ideas, but it’s hard to fault an author for weaving intelligent relevant issues into the fabric of a richly detailed historical narrative, even if some of the strands are underdeveloped.
The tale features Luca, a boy stolen from his parents and eventually sold into slavery at a brothel. The brothel owner knows that there is a mystery about Luca’s heritage, and that mystery is explored throughout the novel, as Luca’s enemies use his unusually slow aging to build a case of witchcraft against him.
However, in an unusual move, Slatton does not use the mystery to drive the story. Indeed, the novel opens on the day of Luca’s death, and the real force of the narrative is on why Luca made the choices he did when he faced the twin questions of how to live and how to die.
Luca’s story spans a couple of centuries and he faces both the heights and the depths of human endeavor. The boy must survive and escape from a brothel, the Black Death, war and the Inquisition. However, he also befriends Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, the Medicis and the Wandering Jew. All, both the terrible and the wonderful, bring Luca to his final choice on the value of love. Slatton’s historical details bring the time period to life and she beautifully weaves in folk motifs, religious history, philosophy and art as she asks us to define a life well lived.
As much as I enjoyed the intellectual weight of the novel, I nevertheless felt some of the strands of the story were thinly developed. Luca’s heritage as a son of Seth in the end matters very little, nor do we find out much about this mysterious group of people. Even more importantly, despite the danger Luca is in from his arch enemies, the story generates little tension on that point, as Luca seems so easily to step out of reach for most of the tale. And though I was very interested to see how Luca’s discomfort with homosexuality due to his past would change as a result of his friendship with Leonardo, the novel skated along the surface of the relationship, telling us how Luca felt rather than showing us.
Overall, this is a fine debut novel from a writer who is interested in big questions about life and death. I recommend Immortal and look forward to reading more from Slatton.