Series: Secrets of the Eternal Rose #1
Published by Philomel on October 30th, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult
Beauty, romance, murder... A novel as stunning and seductive as Renaissance Venice itself.
Cassandra Caravello is part of Venice′s wealthy elite. Her world is one of fabulous gowns, society parties and privilege, yet she longs for something more. While her fiancé is away studying in Paris, she has a chance meeting with an artist called Falco. He is attractive, audacious...and highly unsuitable.
When Cass stumbles upon the body of a murdered woman - with a bloody X carved across her heart - she′s drawn into a dangerous world of secret societies, courtesans and killers. Falco is quick to offer his assistance, but then another body is found and Cass starts receiving death threats... Is Falco more involved than she imagined? And will she be able to stay true to her fiancé, or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for someone she′s not even sure she can trust?
Since reading and loving The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes earlier this year, I was convinced I had to try her previous books under her pen name, Fiona Paul, as well! Venom became our November book club pick and for the most part, I liked it, though it had obvious signs of being the first in a series (and of being a debut novel).
Venom is a historical fiction set in Renaissance Venice. Cassandra, the main character, is part of the wealthy elite, trapped in an engagement and unable to experience life due to the strict social conventions. One of her close friends just died, and this puts her in the middle of a mysterious string of murders that her youthful curiosity demands her to unravel. It’s pluses and minuses for me all around. I liked the setting – I absolutely adore Venice and wish I could go back there again sometime, so it was nice to see the canals, the palazzos, and the elite society with their balls and formalities. Any historical fiction fan could find themselves drawn into the story. (Srsly, there’s a masquerade ball – ‘nough said. Also ALL THOSE PRETTY DRESSES YES PLEASE.) However, I could tell that the vividness in descriptions and language was watered down – likely to make the book more palatable for the young adult target audience. Now, it’s a matter of preference. I would have liked a bit more authenticity, but that’s not to say that it’s completely inaccurate with modern day American speak either – definitely not. But it wasn’t quite as embellished as I wanted.
Cassandra is a character that I do understand and sympathize with, but she’s not always likable. I liked seeing her take on her position in society, and I liked that she so clearly longs for some empowerment that just isn’t possible in this time period. Though she comes from a privileged life, as a woman, she’s still very much a caged bird. I can only imagine that in her position, I would feel the same way. That being said, I understood her unstoppable curiosity and naivete as well. She’s been sheltered for so much of her life that of course she’s innocent and shocked by some of the realities of the other sides of Venice. But something about her still put me off, and I think that it’s because the book is written in 3rd person. It was a bit clunky at times, and I wanted so badly to just see from her eyes, because her internal frustrations would have made her a much more dynamic, vivacious, and interesting character. I do think that there’s a promising character growth arc coming though, so that is pacifying me.
Then there’s that love triangle of doom. Now I wanted so badly to swoon for Falco, the mysterious artist boy who Cass is drawn to, but… I dunno. Let’s be honest: it’s instalove. Now I will say that I’m more forgiving of instalove in historical fiction, because in that context it’s not wholly unrealistic. And certainly with Cass’s sheltered life and how boxed in she feels in her engagement to Luca, I get that she would be instantly attracted to this boy who is so different. He’s from a completely different walk of life, he has that air of mystery, and if anything, pursuing him would mean she makes her own choices for once. However, I felt way too suspicious of Falco the whole time. He was keeping too many secrets for me to trust him, and when Cass kept letting those things slide time after time I wanted to hit her in the face. *cough* I mean, not that violently, but still. I wanted her to have some common sense. Given the risk involved in pursuing that affair in the first place plus all that Falco was hiding from her, I did not feel like their physical attraction was strong enough to compensate. I didn’t really ship it. I actually ended up liking Luca more when he was finally around, because he was a grown goddamn man with a heavy dose of chivalry. He may be a little sketchy too, but I trusted him more than Falco – that’s for sure.
The plot was, frankly, confusing. I think the balance between the mystery and the romance may have been off a little. I did think the murder mystery aspect was interesting, but given Cass’s social status limiting her sleuthing to the nighttime, it was hard to pursue and ended up a bit rushed in the end. I think the problem for me is that the plot was just at a consistent level throughout. There were no high points or low points, really, and it was difficult to tell which direction the story was heading. I mean, the very end did have a climax and some significant and genuinely surprising reveals, but it took a long time to get there. That being said, I never really felt like putting the book down either, because I was captivated by the setting.
Ultimately, the ending left a few too many unanswered questions for me. I did think the whole murder mystery was wrapped up nicely, but for the rest – this secret society that seems to be playing a role in the background was left way too vague. I mean, I guess we’ll see more later in the series, but I would have hoped that the first book would be more concrete about it. It’s just that with all of the passages in between chapters from this “Book of the Eternal Rose”, I thought that would have been playing a much bigger part in this story, and it just… didn’t. So it was a bit confusing. I also still can’t pinpoint whether this story will have a paranormal twist or not. I guess that mysteriousness is simultaneously kind of cool and kind of confusing. Basically, I just need to continue on to the second book and stop rambling.