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Venom by Fiona Paul

Cassandra Caravello leads a charmed life as a member of one of Renaissance Venice’s elite families, but lately, she’s felt more like a bird in a cage than a glamorous girl in the prime of her life. With one of her closest friends recently deceased after succumbing to illness and the other about to be married, Cass feels like she has no one to talk to. It seems almost a blessing when Cass stumbles upon a mystery in the cemetery near her home: the body of her friend Liviana has been replaced with that of another woman—probably a courtesan and most likely murdered. Determined to figure out what’s really going on, Cass teams up with Falco, a mysterious and attractive young artist with dubious intentions. But the deeper they delve into this mystery, the clearer it becomes that something sinister is haunting the city of Venice, and that no one is in more danger than Cass—with her life and her heart.

Venom certainly has all the trappings of a spectacular, swoon-worthy historical book, especially with the gilt charm and romance of Venice. And I have to say that I was quite swept away to another place and time with Paul’s exquisite attention to historical detail, which really brought the Renaissance to life. This gorgeous setting only enriches the other elements of the story, particularly the plot, which is quite well balanced between a murder mystery and Cass’s more personal problems, such as her struggle between her loyalty to her fiancé and her intense attraction to Falco. What I would have liked to see more of, however, was Cass herself; this might seem a little confusing, since the story is told from her point of view, but what I am specifically referring to are her emotions. I certainly got the sense that Cass was undergoing an emotional struggle, particularly in relation to Falco, but I wanted to know more of how she felt about things in her life in relation to herself, not others. Her character needed a lot more emotional development in order for me to truly care about her struggles and to make her ultimate decision regarding her fiancé and Falco meaningful, instead of rather anticlimactic. Despite this, I still found Venom an enjoyable read that wonderfully capture the glamour and grit of historical Venice.

Venom will be enjoyed by readers who also liked Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and Sovay by Celia Rees.

Rating: 3.75

Review copy from BEA and publisher Penguin

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