When I saw that this one was set in Renaissance Venice and that it included a romance and a murder mystery, I was eager to read this book. The colorful, rich descriptions of the place, the people and the activities of that time period were so artfully and skillfully drawn. For that reason alone, I enjoyed this book and respected the writing. Unfortunately, the mystery only somewhat pleased and the main characters not so much- okay, mostly they didn’t.
The story opens with Ian Foscari, the Conte de’ Aosto, entering the room of a famed courtesan only to find a stranger, Bianca Salva sitting over the body covered in blood and holding an ornate knife. They swap accusations over who killed the woman and then Ian devises a plan to solve two problems in one fell swoop. He’ll get his family off his back to marry by announcing an engagement to Bianca and he’ll keep the likely murderess nearby while she attempts to prove her innocence.
Bianca’s brother has mysteriously disappeared again, not that they are close, and her only other relations only want her around to keep her money in the family by forcing her to marry her cousin Angelo. Being accused of murder and treated to cold insults by Ian Foscari are not enough to get out of an engagement to such a powerful man. She lets him coerce her into the engagement and determines that she will prove her innocence.
They swap arguments and vitriol back and forth as they reluctantly partner to solve the murder even as the true guilty party seeks to bring Ian down in a drawn out plot of revenge that will take Bianca down with him. Even as the noose tightens and the two swear hate, they also give in to a fiery attraction. In the end, things have gone way to far to turn back and more may be lost than reputations and their individual lives if they don’t figure things out.
Alright, this is going to seem odd and I admit that I’m as confused as anyone when I say this. I both loathed and enjoyed this book at the same time. The mystery was confusing as was the path to solving it, the hero was vile, and the romance? Yeah, that was an interesting development too that both attracted and repulsed me.
Ian was just awful to Bianca and he was a tyrant, but yet I read on hoping he’d come around. I waited a long time for that. He is this brilliant businessman and strong head of his family, but he is absolutely unreasonable about females after one messed him up. He also was an idiot who had a sensual attractiveness to him. He brought home a suspected murderess as his fiancé and made passionate love to her many times. He seduced her and went to a prostitute once all in hopes of getting her out of his system. Each time they made love, he was especially nasty to her afterwards because he was mad at himself for being attracted. He constantly wavered back and forth about her innocence and that caused some cruel behavior toward her too. I never could like him after all that happened.
Bianca was the redeeming jewel in it all though her lack of self-respect and restraint when she let Ian play her got on my nerves. Bianca is an unusual woman because she longs to study medicine and publish a book on the female anatomy. She has good detective instincts and connections in the demimonde that help her with this. At the same time, she is not confident in her allure as a woman. She has taken the criticisms of her aunt to heart and now there is Ian to make her feel even less appealing. She feels used and then rejected, but she can’t help the attraction to Ian (not her finest moments). She sees his pain and learns his secrets and supports him, but he does not reciprocate this when it comes to Isabella’s murder.
The villainess was a psycho. There was no such thing as wrong and right with her. Everything with her was about whether it pleased or displeased her. She used people and manipulated them. Her motivations were convoluted plots of revenge and spite making much of the stuff going on make no sense whatsoever. Even in the end, I was shocked with where things were left with this person who wrecked so much havoc.
The secondary characters like Ian’s family and Bianca’s friends were enjoyable. They weren’t very effective against Ian, but I still loved how they all worked together particularly in the end. I am definitely curious enough to take a stab at their stories.
The plot thread in this one had interesting moments, but also covered a lot of territory. This was a long book and it felt it at times. I got impatient and just wanted things to get on with it. While I enjoyed the glimpses into life in this sixteenth century decadent Venetian world, it was almost too much compounded with the murder mystery and the stormy love affair between Ian and Bianca.
In summation, I enjoyed the author’s writing and descriptive abilities. I would definitely try her work again assuming that a different hero character and maybe a different situation would be more to my liking.
Those who enjoy steamy romantic suspense set in exotic historical locations should give this one a try.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for my honest review thoughts.
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