Book Review: Never the Wind by Francesco Dimitri

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Never the Wind by Francesco Dimitri

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Titan Books (June 7, 2022)

Length: 319 pages

Author Information: Twitter

Words cannot describe how excited I was when I found out about Never the Wind! It feels like I’d been waiting forever for another English novel by Francesco Dimitri after the magical, captivating read that was The Book of Hidden Things, and to my delight, this was as marvelous and breathtaking as expected.

The story takes readers to the quiet southern Italian countryside where thirteen-year-old Luca Saracino’s parents have just purchased a rundown farmhouse with the vision of turning it into a hotel.  It has also been eight months since Luca has completely lost his sight, and learning his way around his new home is presenting yet another challenge to settling in. Puglia being his family’s ancestral home though, his parents are determined to make their venture a success especially after the double blow of Luca’s blindness and the fact that his older brother had just been kicked out of university for skipping his exams.

Then, Luca meets his neighbor Ada Guadalupi, a vivacious girl who takes him exploring the world he can’t see, encouraging him to break out of his shell and be bold. As their friendship grows, Luca begins learning more about his family’s history in Puglia as well as his grandfather’s bitter grudge against the Guadalupis, a feud that has had lingering effects to this day, drawing rumors and unwanted attention into Luca’s relationship with Ada.

One day, Luca experiences something strange—something impossible—leading others to believe he had himself some kind of stress-induced episode. Luca, however, is convinced what happened to him was real, and only Ada believes him because she has seen and felt those uncanny forces as well. But Ada also has her own problems, even if Luca hates to think anything less of his friend. After all, the Guadalupis are no stranger to tragedy, and Ada herself is a troubled girl, as the adults around him never seem to tire of reminding him.

Never the Wind has been described as “magical realism” and “gothic” which isn’t a combination I’ve seen too often, and certainly this is my first time reading a book like this. The story takes place in the 90’s, told in flashback by an older Luca looking back on this wild summer of changes and adventure, both wondrous and terrible. The effect was very nostalgic in a grown-up Studio Ghibli movie kind of way, and what’s still amazing to me is that Dimitri accomplishes all this by telling the entire story without the use of Luca’s sight. The region of Puglia feels no less alive because of it though, and the writing’s flow did not feel awkward or forced in any way because of Luca’s inability to see. Instead, the prose is filled with description of our protagonist’s other senses, as well as his mental visions and memories of when he was younger.

At its heart, Never the Wind is also a coming-of-age story, and it seems the author has a predilection for writing about adolescence and growing up. But obviously, Luca’s story feels very different from the typical offerings of the genre, since he also has his loss of sight to contend with on top of everything that comes with being a thirteen-year-old in a new place, like trying to fit in and falling in love. The story never really feels YA though, likely due to the story being told in flashback. And yet, although the voice belongs to an adult Luca, I had no trouble sympathizing with his teenage self. Such is the talent of Francesco Dimitri and his immaculate prose.

My only stumbling block was perhaps the fantastical elements of the plot, but I suspect this has more to do with me than with the book. I have always struggled with the more abstract characteristics of magical realism, and this was no exception, especially with regards to the vaguer and more confusing parts of the story. Other readers might not have that problem, and in any case, the story also had so much going for it beyond the magical aspects including small town politics, family conflicts, and long-buried secrets.

It’s so well-written that even non-fantasy readers will find lots to love in Never the Wind, I think. I probably enjoyed it as much as The Book of Hidden Things whose world this one also shares, a cool detail I found out when Art’s disappearance was unexpectedly referenced by Luca, though there is no required reading order and each book stands completely alone. I would recommend either book if you would like to experience Francesco Dimitri’s work for yourself, especially if you’re a fan of magic realism or coming-of-age stories.

15 Comments on “Book Review: Never the Wind by Francesco Dimitri”

  1. This reminds me of my feelings and experiences when first reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, but instead of Italy it’s in Spain. No clue if that’s in any way a valid comparison or if the books have anything in common, but it’s enough that I just added both Never the Wind and The Book of Hidden Things to my TBR and hope to seek them out. Thanks much!

    Like

  2. So happy to see that you enjoyed this. I was already looking forward to it, so your review here is further assurance that I’ll get on well with it. 🙂

    Like

  3. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 01/01/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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