Pub: April 8, 2014 | St. Martin's Griffin | Paperback; 416p
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
SynopsisVenice, 1576. Five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship steals unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man, more dead than alive, disembarks and staggers into Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from Constantinople. Within days the city is infected with bubonic plague—and the Turkish Sultan has his revenge.
But the ship also holds a secret stowaway—Feyra, a young and beautiful harem doctor fleeing a future as the Sultan’s concubine. Only her wits and medical knowledge keep her alive as the plague ravages Venice.
In despair, the Doge commissions the architect Andrea Palladio to build the greatest church of his career—an offering to God so magnificent Venice will be saved. But Palladio’s life is in danger too, and it will require the skills of Annibale Cason, the city’s finest plague doctor, to keep him alive. What Annibale had not counted on was meeting Feyra, who is now under Palladio’s protection—an impossible woman who’s quite possibly his perfect match.
My ReviewThere's always a bit of trepidation when starting a book by an author that you've never read before, but sometimes the risk pays off in spades. Case in point The Venetian Bargain by Marina Fiorato. Holy moly, how in the world I haven't read her yet I can't say, I'm just glad that I took the plunge because this novel was ah-ma-zing!
16th century Constantinople and Venice explode off the pages in The Venetian Bargain! You see the sights and smell the smells of these two exotic locales vividly under Fiorato's skillfull pen. The ambience and mood of the time feels spot on and it's easy to get lost in the descriptions.
The main themes of the novel are the Plague and the various medical practices that existed, both based on either superstition or science, and the religious differences between the Turks and Christians. It's clearly evident to the reader that the author's done her research. But it's not just the historical aspects that make this book so hard to put down, it's Fiorato's writing style. I was immediately drawn in by her strong and polished voice and held captivated until the end.
Um, and can we talk about the cover? Hello, gorgeous! I need that dress pronto (and if the figure comes with it, so much the better)! It suits the book perfectly and I can totally believe that could be Feyra.
The Venetian Bargain is one of those books that will make you want to hide away behind a locked door, ignore the cries of your husband and kids, and the hundreds of emails waiting a response, and the call of dirty dishes, and just READ. Do yourself a favor and pick this up, you can thank me later!
Venice.Christian Year 1576.
Sebastiano Venier, Doge of Venice, gazed from the stone quatrefoil window, with eyes that were as troubled as the ocean.
His weather-eye, sharpened by many years at sea, had seen the storm approaching for three days, clotting and clouding on the horizon and rolling in across the sickly amethyst waves. Now the maelstrom was here, and it had brought with it something more malign than ill weather.
With his flowing white beard and noble countenance, the Doge had been immortalized by Tintoretto and been compared to Neptune who also ruled a seabound kingdom. He had even, in hushed tones, been compared to the Almighty. A profoundly devout man, the Doge would have been deeply troubled, for different reasons, by each comparison; but today he would have given anything to have the omnipotence to save Venice from her darkest hour.
He watched as six figures, huddled together against the elements, hurried along a dock already glazed with water at every flow of the tide, the ebb tugging at the hems of their black robes. The cloaks and cowls gave them a monastic look, but these six men were men of science, not religion. They dealt in life and death. They were doctors.
As they drew closer he could see their masks clearly; bone-white beaks curving in a predatory hook from the dark cowls. The masks were frightening enough, but the reason for them even more ominous.
They were his Medico delle Peste. Plague doctors.
They were six scholars, men of letters from good families, all schooled at the best medical academies, one for each of the six sestieri of Venice. To see the Doctors together was an ill omen. Doge Sebastiano Venier doubted that they had ever even met together before; and they seemed to him to swoop like a murder of crows at a graveside. Perhaps his own. His shoulders dropped for an instant; he felt very old.
He watched the doctors wade along the peerless Riva degli Schiavoni, one of the most wondrous streets in the world, and knew that any minute now they would enter his great white palace. The Doge’s skin chilled as if sea-spray had doused him. He leaned his head against the cool quarrels of glass, and shut his eyes for one blessed instant. If he hadn’t done so, he might have seen a Venetian galleass sailing swiftly away on the dark and swelling waters; but he did close his eyes for a couple of heartbeats, just to be still and breathe in the salt ether.
The smell of Venice.
Sebastiano Venier straightened up, reminding himself who he was, where he was. He looked at the delicate stonework of his windows, the fi nest Venetian glazing keeping the thunder of the sea from his ears. He looked up, tilting his noble head to the ceiling and the peerless frescoes of red and gold painted over hundreds of years by the fi nest Venetian artists, covering the cavernous, glorious space above. And yet, all the riches and the glory could not keep the Pestilence from his door.
The Doge settled in his great chair and waited for the doctors to be announced. They fi led in, dripping, and semicircled him like vultures, the red crystal eyepieces set into their masks glittering hungrily, as if ready to peck the very flesh of him. But the moment they began to speak, the Doge ceased to be afraid of them.
‘We had expected it, my lord,’ said one. ‘In the botanical gardens of the Jesuiti, there have been of late unusual numbers of butterflies – hundreds upon thousands of them.’
The Doge raised a single, winter-white brow. ‘Butterflies?’
The doctor, failing to register the steel in the Doge’s tone, prattled on. ‘Why, Doge, butterflies are well known to be harbingers of pestilence.’
‘It is true,’ chimed in another. ‘There have been other signs too. There is a bakery in the Arsenale, and when you tear the loaves in twain, the bread itself begins to bleed.’
The Doge rapped his fingertips on the arm of his chair. ‘The fact that the pestilence has arrived in Venice is not a matter for debate. The question is, how to best treat the Plague.’
It was no use. One physician wanted to combat the pestilence by advising his patients to wear a dead toad around the neck. The next advised backing a live pigeon into the patients’ swollen buboes in the groin and armpit, so that the tail feathers could draw out the poison. They began to talk over one another, their beaks almost clashing, the masks now ridiculous; the doctors’ learned, mellow voices raised in pitch until they were quacking like so many ducks.
The Doge, irritated, found his attention wandering. These physicians were charlatans, buffoons, each one more self-important than the next. His eyes drifted to the shadow of an arras, where a man, an old man like himself, stood listening; waiting for the moment when the Doge would call him forth, and tell him why he had been summoned.
About the AuthorMARINA FIORATO is half-Venetian and a history graduate of Oxford University and the University of Venice, where she specialized in the study of Shakespeare’s plays as an historical source. After University she studied art and has since worked as an illustrator, actress, and film reviewer. She also designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones. She lives in London with her husband, son, and daughter.
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