Lurid scandal and dark romance liven up the soap opera otherwise known as Renaissance Italy.
Martines is a scholar of the Italian Renaissance, and his debut displays an exuberant pleasure in weaving obscure historical details into an operatically passionate love story. The novel is cast as a collection of letters drawn from various secret archives and histories of Venice, a tactic that succeeds in creating an air of mystery and threat while also serving to disclose forms of information that might otherwise be excised from a more standard third-person account. The letters that form the primary material are written by a pair of lovers, Orso, a Dominican friar, and Loredana, a wealthy young widow. Alternating voices reveal a deeply organized, if shadowy world of conspiracies in both politics and love. The city of Venice, divided in half, with the lower classes living in darkness and squalor and the wealthy enjoying sun and spaciousness, is under attack from political provocateurs and religious charismatics. Often working together—indeed, often one and the same person—the agents for political change seek a revolution in Venice. The tale is fast-paced and exciting, moving brilliantly between the dirty streets of lower Venice to the marbled palazzos of the wealthy.
Learned but frothy—that rare bodice-ripper that knows the history of the bodice.