Thursday, May 8, 2008

Review: The Venetian Mask

Title: The Venetian Mask

Author: Rosalind Laker

Publisher: Three Rivers Press (Reprint Edition)

# of Pages: 464

Rating: DNF Product Description
Enduring friendships and long-held vendettas come alive against the splendor and decadence of eighteenth-century Venice.

In 1775 Venice–known to outsiders as “the brothel of Europe”–the tradition of mask-wearing has allowed adultery and debauchery to flourish. But Marietta and Elena, two dear friends at the Ospedale della Pietà, a world-famous orphanage and music school for girls, know little of that milieu–until they come of age.

Elena is forced to wed the head of the Celano clan, a jealous, brutal man, while Marietta marries Domenico Torrisi, whose family vendetta with the Celanos is centuries old. Tradition dictates that the friends should never speak again, but their bond is too strong to break.

As the French Revolution unsettles all of Europe, Elena’s husband frames Domenico and he becomes a political prisoner. Marietta and Elena plot to save him, and the women discover that Venetian masks have noble purposes, too–but will their efforts put their own lives at risk?

Embodying the glitter and the treachery of the city it portrays, The Venetian Mask will keep you turning pages long into the night.

Meh. I received this novel through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. I was quite excited to be chosen to read it, as I actually have a few other novels by Laker on my shelves which I haven't touched yet, and I thought it would be a good way to get a feel for her as an author.

Unfortunately, based on this book, I don't think those books will ever be read now (at least, not by me). Unlike the above product description's promise, The Venetian Mask did not keep me turning pages long into the night. I didn't even finish the book. This probably has a lot to do with, you guessed it, the female leads.

I do not have problems with beautiful, intelligent, highly-talented girls, as a rule. I do have problems with annoyingly beautiful, intelligent, highly-talented girls. I also have issues with authors creating females who are gorgeous but are apparently completely unaware of their beauty (see my review of Twilight for another example of this). Why is it that if a girl is beautiful and she knows it, there's something wrong with her? I think most pretty girls know they're pretty. Doesn't mean they are snobbish or self-absorbed. It's just a fact. I doubt that they go through their whole day in a Zoolander-ish haze of, "Wow- I'm really, really ridiculously good-looking."

But I digress.

Really, Marietta and Elena are just two more examples of Mary Sues in literature. They're utterly perfect, without fault, and are just victims of their situations. Which is quite normal in a lot of historical romance female leads, to be fair. But it certainly doesn't make them stand out to me as a reader. And since I didn't enjoy the characters in the book, that meant it was mainly up to the plot to keep my interest. And it didn't, really.

Another premise with the book that I found odd was the way these utter nobodies, growing up in an orphanage, both somehow finagled marriages into two of the top families in 18th century Venice. I think that is highly unlikely to have happened. And so from then on, I just couldn't believe that the story was actually taking place. I lost all ability to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the novel. It seemed like Laker did a lot of research about Venice during that period in history- so maybe she's right and I'm wrong about the class structure in place. But I just couldn't absorb the idea that two orphan girls (whose parents were in trade, no less) could somehow marry into such illustrious and important families.

So, there went the plot for me as well.

So, no characters and no plot- how about the writing?

No go, either.

I found the writing inelegant- there were several instances of Laker telling readers exactly what was going through characters' minds, even when it was obvious (i.e., "'Are you alright?' he asked anxiously. He was anxious to know that she was alright").

This is a very harsh review. That's not very fair because I didn't HATE the book, really. I just felt, as I said above, very "meh" about it. It felt like a book a 14-year-old would write when she was unhappy with the state of her modern-day, dull life and wanted to imagine a much more romantic and exciting story to live out. And I just didn't buy into it. I guess from now on, if I feel like reading historical romance, I am once again going to stick with Georgette Heyer.


  1. It doesn't make sense to me that two orphan girls who were the best of friends would marry feuding aristorcrats either.

    Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite authors.

  2. Anonymous5/08/2008

    Aristocrats. Geez, I hate misspellings, typos etc. Especially if they're mine.

  3. I also read this for LT Early Reviewers and was not impressed. I did finish it but it took a lot of effort.

  4. Hey Aarti ~

    I'm hijacking your book discussion to say HI!!!!!!

  5. This seems to be a common reaction to this book. I, too, got this from LibraryThing, and, like you, I just couldn't make myself finish it. It had such potential!

  6. Thanks for the warning! I will pass on this book.


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