Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould
When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currency—secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murder—one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.
I will admit that the original cover for this (seen HERE) is what caught my attention first; I loved how they used the back of her dress to show the Venice skyline. The cover is simple yet extremely beautiful. The summary of the book also caught my attention, because it sounded different from everything else I’ve been reading, and I was looking forward to reading a book set in Venice of 1585. And I wasn’t disappointed; I really enjoyed this book.
Laura della Scala was sent to a convent when she was ten years old, when her father decided he couldn’t raise both her and her sister after their mother’s death. Several years later, she’s been recalled to her father’s house, where she finds out that her sister, Beatrice, has died, and it’s now fallen to Laura to marry Beatrice’s fiance, Vincenzo, in order to save their father from ruin. Vincenzo, however, is a disgusting old man, and Laura despairs over the turn her life has taken. She is therefore surprised when a group of women known as the Segreta approach her and tell her they can save her from Vincenzo, if she can provide them with a worthwhile secret. And thus, Laura is launched into a new life where no one can be trusted, and she must learn to find her strength and stand up for herself if she’s to have the life she wants.
I really enjoyed this book. I felt like Laura was a sympathetic character who goes from being thrust from one situation to another as she tries to adjust to her new life outside of the convent (with no help from anyone) to a heroine with a definite backbone who stands up to her father and tries to figure out the truth behind her sister’s death. She doesn’t know who to trust, because while she realizes how powerful the Segreta are – they do manage to get her away from Vincenzo, after all – she starts to suspect that they may have played a role in her sister’s death. There’s also a handsome painter who ensnares Laura and has his own secrets, and her sister’s best friend who is perhaps hiding some things as well.
Like Laura, I was unsure who would ultimately turn out to be the villain in this story; there were so many twists and turns of the plot that I was constantly guessing (incorrectly) as to what would happen next and who would be at fault. I liked watching Laura slowly but surely become more sure of herself and her actions; while standing up to her father caused her to be sent to her room more than once, I was pleased that she continued to follow her own path and make her own decisions. Her father was really a terrible person, though; he put both Laura and Beatrice into a terrible situation with Vincenzo, all because he wanted to reclaim his family’s status and wealth, which he himself caused to fail in the first place. I loved Faustina, Laura’s nurse, and also Bianca’s fiery spirit and good humor. All of the characters were nicely fleshed out. And I absolutely adored the interactions between Laura and Giacomo; now there was a couple I could get behind and root for!
I enjoyed reading about Laura’s journey and was really pulling for her happily-ever-after. The atmospheric prose was also first-rate, especially that describing Laura’s night-time wanderings and gondola rides. All in all, this was a really engrossing, engaging read that I enjoyed from beginning to end.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.