More old-fashioned historical romance from Laker (The Golden Tulip, etc. etc.), this time set in Venice just before Napoleon forces the declining republic to its knees. Laker's latest tale of high jinks, love, and woe stars an orphan girl named Marietta, raised in Venice's Ospedale della PietÖ, an asylum for abandoned girlchildren famous for its choir. Marietta's best friend at the Ospedale is Elena, who sings almost as beautifully as Marietta does--but the carefully guarded foundlings grow as nervous as fillies as they come of age and begin to be exposed to the color, excitement, and licentiousness of the city at concerts where they perform. Marietta falls in love with Alix Desgrange, though the relationship is nipped in the bud by a widow who wants the young Frenchman for herself. Meanwhile, Elena is engaged to the scion of the Celano family (Venetian top dogs) but is forced to marry his cold younger brother, Filippo, when fiancÇ number one suddenly dies. That makes things tough for the bosom friends, since Marietta's eventually chosen by Domenico Torrisi. The Torrisi and Celano clans have been wrangling with each other for centuries, and, of course, the ladies get caught in the vendetta--with Elena attempting to prove that her husband masterminded a plot against Signor Torrisi and Marietta rescuing her friend from Signor Celano, who's been trying to do her in. Laker's usual sanitized kind of history, with a fairy tale for postpubescent girls imposed on top. But her characters are spunky and her plot satisfies, even if it doesn't describe the character behind La Serenissima's mask in anything other than the most simplistic terms.