Sofia Scaligeri is the contessa in waiting. She's been trained up by Doctor Bardini, who is loyal to Sofia's father even twenty years after his death. Streetfighting is all she knows, though Bardini has been trying to teach her statecraft. It isn't until she apprentices herself to the nun who knocked Sofia on her ass that she starts to learn what it means to resurrect Rasenna from defeat. She finds an ally in a Concordian engineer who has been sent to bridge the Irenicon, the river that destroyed the city all those years ago. Harte lets both of these characters take turns narrating the story, shifting occasionally to let minor characters catch the reader up on recent history, hatch plots, betray and double-cross each other, make deals, and more. Harte shows us just how unlikely it is for Rasenna to stop fighting itself long enough for Sofia to free it from Concordian dominance.
Harte recreates the Italy of the Medici and Sforza, but with many twists. There was no Jesus, but a kind of Christianity developed around Mary. A Girolamo Bernoulli sparked a secular Re-Formation. Cities are states and condottieri roam the Etrurian (not Italian) peninsula looking to sell their swords. It's fortunate that there isn't a Machiavelli analog; these people are devious enough as it is. Behind all this alternate history are fantastical elements. Because Irenicon is the opening book in the series, we don't learn much about the buio—water spirits—who live in the river or what the Engineer's Guild in Concord is really up to with their horrific Beast underneath their citadel.
By the end of the first third, forces have moved into inexorable motion and Irenicon becomes incredibly hard to put down. There are so many impossible situations that characters end up in that I was amazed at their ability to fight their way out again. I was cheering for them by the end of the book. I wonder what Harte has in store for his ragged heroes in the next installments of the Wave Trilogy.