David Rizzio was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favorites at court and the private secretary to the queen. Being a royal favorite would not have been seen as a grave offense in any other country during this time, yet this is Scotland in the 16th century. Scotland was filled with deadly feuds between lords fighting for control of the crown, which would lead to numerous prominent men being murdered, including Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, David Rizzio was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was several months pregnant. The tale of the grotesque crime and those who witnessed the events of that night are told in Denis Mina’s latest gripping novella, “Rizzio.”
I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this novella. When I read the description of this book and how dynamic the cover design was, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I was intrigued to see how Denise Mina would write the tale of Rizzio for a modern audience.
We begin with a tennis match between David Rizzio and Lord Darnley, Mary’s angsty and angry husband. Darnley wants to be King of Scotland and is tired of Rizzio getting in the way of his plans and that his wife favors this Italian nobody. He wants Rizzio to die, but not by his hands. Darnley has enlisted a ragtag group of nobles to help kill Rizzio and make way for Darnley to become the King.
However, things don’t go as smoothly as Darnley plans. Mary hosts a dinner party for a small group of friends at Holyrood Palace before she goes into confinement to give birth to her son and heir, James VI. A delightful party is disrupted by Darnley, Lord Ruthven, and their men, including one Henry Yair, who have come to kill Rizzio. Mary tries in vain to protect her Italian favorite, but she cannot save her friend in the end.
The tension and the drama that Mina was able to create in such a short amount of time were masterfully done. She was able to show how complex Scottish politics and the battle between Catholicism and reform so that readers who are not familiar with this time could understand the friction between the factions. Even though I knew the history behind this event, how Mina described it sent shivers down my spine. The one issue that I had with this novella was the ending, and it felt a bit flat and rushed to me. I wish she would have tied in the death of Mary and Darnley a bit better into the murder of Rizzio.
I think for a historical fiction novella, Mina does an excellent job of grabbing the reader’s attention and transporting them to that horrible night. This story may be short, but the emotional impact and details will stay with readers even after reading it. If you love reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Stuart Scotland during the 16th century, you will find “Rizzio” by Denise Mina thrilling.