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Venom by Fiona Paul

BloggingOutsideTheBox

Blogging Outside the Box is a  feature at Speculating on SpecFic, where books outside the SFF banner are reviewed. It is intended to highlight some of the non speculative fiction titles I am reading and share my thoughts with readers.

Cassandra Caravello is part of Venice′s wealthy elite. Her world is one of fabulous gowns, society parties and privilege, yet she longs for something more. While her fiancé is away studying in Paris, she has a chance meeting with an artist called Falco. He is attractive, audacious…and highly unsuitable.

When Cass stumbles upon the body of a murdered woman – with a bloody X carved across her heart – she′s drawn into a dangerous world of secret societies, courtesans and killers. Falco is quick to offer his assistance, but then another body is found and Cass starts receiving death threats… Is Falco more involved than she imagined? And will she be able to stay true to her fiancé, or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for someone she′s not even sure she can trust?

It took me a long time – more than half way through the novel – to really get into Venom, and there was a time when I contemplated not finishing it. Something about Cassandra and her predicament refused to click with me, and I couldn’t see the so-called romance between her and Falco as anything but an overly contrived way of showing the choices Cass has to make in her life. But the story grew on me, as did the characters, and I ended up liking it in the end. I think this has a lot to do with Luca.

Cassandra is a noblewoman in Venice, who gets caught up in a murder mystery when the body of her recently deceased friend is replaced by that of a murder victim. She’s engaged to Luca, a boy she thinks of with disdain and faint horror, and is basically desperately searching for an adventure. Enter the artist Falco, who starts helping her uncover the mysterious deaths occurring in Venice, who provides just the distraction, and thrill of the forbidden, that Cass is looking for.

I couldn’t like Cass for so long throughout this book – she constantly complains of the ‘cage’ around her and the fact that her life is predetermined for her. However, she  readily escapes her home to accompany Falco on many late night adventures, and successfully pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes, so you’ll have to forgive me for not taking her seriously. Her dissatisfaction with her upcoming wedding also seemed forced to me – she never considers that the boy she hasn’t seen for three years may have grown into a man she could love and there’s very little discussion over whether she would have a choice in the match. Without ever coming out and saying she’d much rather not marry Luca, Cass assumes that everyone is hell-bent on forcing her to marry him, when it seems to me that this is far from the case. Everyone else assumes she’s happy because they have been friends since childhood, and Cass has never implied that she doesn’t want to marry him.

Her romance with Falco doesn’t make any sense to me. I recognise that he represents everything that Cass feels she doesn’t have in her life: danger, excitement, love, but there are too many creepy vibes coming off him for me to really believe that she could like him. He hangs around in graveyards, has no problem kissing and making out with her even though she’s engaged (although she has an equal choice in the matter and it doesn’t seem to bother her either), takes her to the most unsavoury places and leaves her unguarded, free to be groped by strangers, and yet, Cass still swoons over his eyes, smile, hands, other anatomy. It’s tragic.

What really turned this book around for me was Luca. Once he was back on the scene I was a goner. Far from the awkward, socially inept boy Cass had repeatedly described, Luca is a wonderful gentleman. And good-looking to boot. I kept waiting for Cass to see how amazing he is, and I think she got there in the end. Luca has his mysteries too, but I always felt he genuinely cared to Cass’s heath and wellbeing, and he is the only character in the book to ask her if she’s happy with their match. I am really looking forward to seeing him and Cass built a relationship in future books.

The murder mystery in itself is quite interesting, but there are too many players in it for my liking. There are still so many questions that have been left unanswered, but I liked the way the story was wrapped up. There are a lot of clues in this book, and it’s hard to keep track of which murder victim knew whom, and how all the suspects and victims were related, but I enjoyed this aspect of the novel all the same.

One of the major disappointments in the book is the general tone. I think the author has re-created the atmosphere of Venice quite well, but the way the characters talked felt off to me. There are many phrases and colloquialisms used in Venom that I feel are too modern-American for the setting of the book. I also disliked the smattering of Italian phrasing throughout the book. It seems wrong – supposedly the whole narrative is occurring in Italian, and we’re obviously reading it in English, but the way mi dispiace, molte scusi, mannaggia and other Italian phrases are incorporated into the novel is tiresome. I feel like they should have been excluded all together, rather than kept in as clumsy reminders that the action is occurring in a foreign landscape as they have the effect of cheapening the setting.

I ended up liking Venom quite a bit more than I’d first thought I would, and I am glad that I have the sequel, Belladonna, ready to read. I’ve been sucked into Cassandra, Luca and Falco’s lives, and I want to see them unravel the mysterious society that is the Order of the Eternal Rose.

2 comments on “Venom by Fiona Paul

  1. I had another trusted blogger read this one and she liked it even more than you! It makes me excited to get into this series, especially seeing that the sequel is even better ^^ I will hold off on it for a bit though because of your comments on the MC’s behavior and her obsession with Falco…I’ve had a bit of bad luck with the romance elements in books lately, and I think I’d be frustrated by this like you were. Thanks for the excellent and insightful review Shaheen!

  2. The second book is much better. I was pleasantly surprised.

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