Cassandra Caravello is one of Renaissance Venice’s lucky elite: with elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, her own lady’s maid, and a wealthy fiancé, she has everything a girl could desire. Yet ever since her parents’ death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.
When Cass stumbles upon a murdered woman—practically in her own backyard—she’s drawn into a dangerous world of courtesans, killers, and secret societies. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a mysterious artist with a mischievous grin… and a spectacular skill for trouble. Can Cassandra find the murderer, before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiancé, or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?
Beauty, love, romance, and mystery weave together in a stunning novel that’s as seductive and surprising as the city of Venice itself.
First of all, I want to make sure I mention just how gorgeous this book is. Aside from the fantastic cover, the pages are done with that sort of “rough edge” quality (I’m sure this has a fancy name, but I don’t know it), and all of them have a really pretty pattern printed on them where they meet the spine. Each chapter also has a black lead-in page with a quote from a thoroughly creepy book. The entire presentation of this book is simply amazing; you can tell that a lot of thought went in to its design and layout.
Moving on to the review of this gorgeous book’s content, I’ve mentioned in some of my previous reviews that I am a giant sucker for well done historicals. For me, the main draw of Venom – despite the wide variety of mixed ratings I’ve seen for it – was the promise of one girl’s atmospheric adventures in Renaissance Venice. And, honestly, the atmosphere is where this novel really and truly excels; I adored reading about Cass’ gondola trips, her nighttime strolls in the cemetery bordering her aunt’s crumbling palazzo, the journeys through Venice’s streets. The description and prose used to describe the setting was first-rate, and had me eagerly devouring everything. The book gets a definite two thumbs up from me in that regard.
What failed in comparison, was our main character herself. Cass is a girl of wealth and status, who very much doesn’t fit in with the rest of Venice’s rich female population. She loves writing, enjoys her studies, and is resentful that she’s been betrothed to former neighbor boy Luca. Now, honestly, this would be fine, but there were times when I literally wanted to reach through the pages and shake her because she was frustrating me so much. She’s engaged to another, and yet spends several weeks running around every single night with a penniless artist named Falco, who – of course – she ends up falling in love with. She also loves to run headfirst into danger, causing the same facepalm from me that those stupid girls in horror films get from the audience; I was constantly shaking my head in disbelief. I also wanted to shake her when she refused to read Luca’s letter, and then, when she finally does get around to it, never actually reads it – or the second one – all the way through! She also has a complete disregard for her aunt or those who care about her, simply wanting what she wants when she wants it, consequences be damned. And her childish behavior toward Luca just made me roll my eyes. I seriously wanted to slap her. Having such a frustrating main character accounts for much of the “lost” rating points; it’s hard to give a book four or five stars when your main narrator is so infuriating.
That being said, there was something very compelling about this book and the story it tells. I was fully engrossed in the plot, wanting to know what was going on with the dead girls, how Falco may or may not have been involved, and how everything was going to come together. Just like Cassandra, I was constantly guessing as to who the person responsible was (although I give myself props for making the correct guess in who would wind up being the killer, although was completely and utterly wrong about the motivations). For me, personally, the mystery was well done and constructed in a way that definitely keeps you guessing.
While having a main character that definitely grates, I still found Venom to be thoroughly engaging. I also like the way the book ended, and am hoping it will mean that Cass is a more mature, less obnoxious main character in the sequel, Belladonna, which releases later this year. Fans of well-done historical details will love the setting, and those who are looking for a bit of a forbidden romance will find plenty to swoon over with Cass and Falco. If the book intrigues you at all, do give it a read; I was very pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it.