Rizzio by Denise Mina

This review first appeared on Rosie Amber Reviews on March 16, 2022. You can purchase a copy of Rizzio here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

David Rizzio, who gives Denise Mina’s Rizzio its name, is an Italian in the Scottish court, a loyal friend to the queen, and a onetime lover of the queen’s consort. The consort, Lord Darnley, married the queen for love, but has grown bitter at his position in court as little more than an ornament for the throne. Lord Darnley’s father, the Earl of Lennox, is prepared to manipulate and sacrifice his son into being the face of this insurrection if it means overthrowing the queen and restoring a cabal of deposed lords to their ancestral seats. All of this culminates in Mina’s gut-punch of a novella, a fast, dark recounting of roughly three terrible days in March 1566.

Written in tight, present-tense prose, Rizzio peers over the shoulders and into the minds of conspirators, loyalists, pawns, and victims as the titular assassination of Rizzio and the attempted overthrow of the queen unfolds. Everyone from the plotting lords, to the queen, to the people of Edinburgh who noticed unusual doings in the castle late at night, is drawn into this tale of one long weekend that changed the course of British history.

With less than 130 pages between its covers, Rizzio reads at a breakneck pace as Mina deftly lays out tangled webs of alliances, beliefs, deceptions, and betrayals that knot across 16th century Edinburgh. Circumstances change rapidly when plotters realize that all is not what it seems, the pregnant Queen Mary plans her escape, and unlikely allies, enemies, and opportunists make themselves known. As she has shown time and again with her other works, Mina is an author who knows how to captivate and keep her audience, and Rizzio is no exception.