Book One of the Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy
By Fiona Paul
Available now from Philomel (Penguin)
Part of the Fall 2012 Breathless Reads
VENOM endeared itself to me immediately. The plot is set into motion when Cassandra Caravello's best friend dies. She goes to her mausoleum and finds that her body is gone, replaced by that of a murdered prostitute. In the graveyard, she also runs into a boy named Falco, who perhaps helps her escape the murderer.
Oh, but back the immediate endearment. Cass's dead friend is Liviana, which is one of the names I based my pseudonym on. How could I not love this book? It's set in Venice, which is one of real cities that makes a great fictional setting. Clandestine meetings on boats are clearly better than clandestine meeting in dirty alleys that probably stink of human waste. And Fiona Paul pays attention to her setting. Cass, living in Renaissance Italy, isn't as free as many heroines. She must maintain her reputation and marry the fiance her late parents chose for her. Her romance with Falco and desire to find the murderer lead her to risk ending up on the streets. The stakes are high for Cass even if the murderer doesn't catch on to her investigation.
I'm most amazed that Paul managed to make me like Falco. Let's face it, Cass met him in a graveyard shortly after finding a recently dumped body. That's suspicious. I was suspicious of him, and thankfully Cass was too. As Cass came to believe his explanation for his presence, I came to believe he was at least not a killer. (Hey, he was still clearly up to something.)
The only real weakness I can think of in VENOM is that there isn't much about the Eternal Rose society. The series name is "Secrets of the Eternal Rose," but there aren't many secrets on display in VENOM. The society doesn't even come into play until very late in the novel. But I can deal with the fact that VENOM is just setting up the main plot for the trilogy since the mystery plot is very involving.
Cass doesn't forget that she's in danger, or that other women are in danger. She keeps her focus on finding clues. And she is useful to the investigation - she finds out information that the more street-savvy Falco fails to obtain. Although there were romantic interludes, they didn't overwhelm the mystery. Cass doesn't spend two hundred pages mooning over Falco and her fiance while forgetting that there's a serial killer on the loose. (Not that she uses the term serial killer due to the setting.)
VENOM is lush and absorbing. It certainly kept me distracted while I read it. I expected it to take a couple of days since it was slightly thick and I was very busy, but I devoured VENOM in a single sitting. I would read more historical fiction if it were all like this.