Friday, 30 November 2012

Venom by Fiona Paul

Venom is Fiona Paul's debut novel. It's historical YA and, in a slight departure from my usual reading, does not contain any fantasy of SF elements. It's set in historical Venice and does involve a bit of a murder mystery, so I (correctly) presumed that it would not be entirely outside my usual reading comfort zone. A copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes by Harper Collins AU via NetGalley.

Cass — Cassandra — is a Venetian noble young woman who lives with her aging aunt and has been betrothed for many years to a boy she finds a bit dull. The story opens with her friend's funeral and gets interesting when, that evening, Cass discovers her friend's body in her family tomb has been replaced by another, obviously murdered, girl. In the course of making this discovery, she meets the mysterious and somewhat alluring Falco, a painter. Together they set out to try and learn who committed the murder and why. A quest that becomes somewhat more urgent when they discover a second body. And of course, betrothed Cass falls for the roguish Falco, even though he drags her through dangerous and eye-opening situations.

The opening of Venom annoyed me a little bit. It seemed that Cass fell into the cliché of feeling trapped in a noblewoman's life and detesting sewing because it was an easy thing to complain about. I thought she ignored her fiancé's existence too readily and, from comments that her other friend made, running off with Falco on a spur of the moment seemed somewhat out of character. She also complained about corsets a lot — and they do make a good metaphor for her supposed gilded cage — but in the end her corset proved to be rather useful. And the fact that she managed to sneak away several times without too much trouble does somewhat belie the caged part.

By the end, however, Cass was annoying me less. I felt that she ultimately made some sensible choices, even if she had to make some careless and selfish ones along the way. I also appreciated that her lesson learned was a bit subtle and didn't attempt to bludgeon the reader over the head.

The other thing that bothered me was some of the modern American phrases that snuck in to the writing. The setting was pretty genuinely Venetian but there were some phrases which struck me as too modern — in the colloquial sense, rather than explicitly anachronistic — and clashed with the Italian words and phrases also thrown in.

Ultimately, I would recommend Venom to fans of YA or historical fiction. It's the first in a series, but it's quite self-contained. The only loose threads at the end are minor and I don't have much idea which direction a sequel might take. I will be interested to see where it does go.

3.5 / 5 stars

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