Venom by Fiona Paul
Series: Secrets of the Eternal Rose #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery, romance
Published on October 30, 2012
Published by Philomel
Read From: 1.23.13 - 1.26.13
Cassandra Caravello has everything a girl could desire: elegant gowns, sparking jewels, invitations to the best parties, and a handsome, wealthy fiance - yet she longs for something more. Ever since her parents' death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.
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. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a poor artist with a mischievous grin. . . .and a habit of getting into trouble. Will Cassandra find the murderer before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiance or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Absolutely not. While I love the mask, I detest the leering and the girl playing with her lip. It looks like a teen penny-dreadful (one of those paperback romances little old ladies are always reading; a bodice ripper, in other words). I wish I could say that this is a book you can’t judge by its cover, and that it was a splendid story, but that would be lying. You can, unfortunately, totally judge this book by its cover. Oh, and I have no idea why the book is called Venom; it makes no sense, even after reading the book.
Characters: Let’s take this story’s problems one at a time, shall we? The characters: Cass, our protagonist, has no personality throughout the majority of the book. And when she does begin to show something of one, it is irritating at best. She causes all of her own problems by not thinking before acting, her reactions and emotions are always in the extreme, and never mild. She’s never just kind of annoyed; she’s furious. She’s never kind of sad; she’s all-out “I want to kill myself” depressed. Here is a girl whose panic attacks can be set off by the very slightest disturbance, and who seems to have very strange and unexplained hallucinations when her emotions go too far, and yes - she faints quite a bit. Falco is just a cad. There’s nothing even remotely charming about him, and his “mysteriousness” falls completely flat. Cass may have difficulty piecing together his past, but the Reader has no such trouble, which serves to both destroy his “mysteriousness” and make Cass look even stupider than she already does. When we finally get to meet Cass’s fiance, Luca, the Author tries so very hard to make him seem like an overprotective, jealous jerk, but quite honestly I found his objections to Cass’s night excursions very reasonable. It wasn’t safe in the Renaissance for young women to wander the streets alone - especially at night - and hello! There’s a murderer on the loose!
The Romance: Quite honestly, it made me want to vomit. So Falco is, unsurprisingly, Cass’s main love interest. Why, I don’t know, because there is nothing appealing about him, and Cass makes it pretty darn clear that she isn’t in love with him, but in lust. Every thought she has about him is in the context of “what would it be like to see him naked? To touch him, naked?” Yep, sounds like a strong, heartfelt love, doesn’t it? And of course, Cass has only known Falco for a day or two, so he’s a virtual stranger, and she also suspects that he might be hugely connected to the murders, but that doesn’t seem to bother her, because his touch makes her feel like she’s on fire (literally), and that’s the only thing that matters, right? But then, for some very inexplicable reason, Cass begins to feel like she’s betraying her fiance, Luca, when up to this point, she has expressed nothing but dislike for him. So why would she feel guilty about going behind the back of someone she doesn’t like? Ah, but of course, when Luca comes into the story, he’s all handsome and buff and not at all what she remembered, so now she does a Bella Swan on us and starts biting at her nails, unsure which hotty to pick (and for the record, neither of them are “hot”). Oh, give me a break! I hate love triangles!
Plot: Now, the plot could have been really good, therefore redeeming this book somewhat. There’s mysterious ritualistic murders! Well, Venom spends more time focusing on Cass’s reaction to having Falco touch her, than on what could have been a highly intriguing murder mystery. Oh, but the synopsis also promises secret societies! Awesome, right? Well, let me put it this way: there is only one instance that the secret society is mentioned, and it literally goes like this: “Have you ever heard of the Order of the Eternal Rose?” Luca asked Cass. “What’s that?” Cass asked. “Never mind,” Luca said.” And that’s it. I am not joking; I really wish I were, but I’m not. I realize there’s a sequel (unfortunately). So why didn’t the Author focus more on the murders and secret societies in this book, and the romance in later ones? The Author tries to keep us on the edge of our seats by throwing in tons of red herrings that sit there and shout, “I’m a red herring! Can’t you tell?” And the Reader can tell, but unfortunately, Cass is so dense and emotionally compromised that she doesn’t notice the fishy little misleading coincidences and goes off on another whirlwind of sobbing and starving herself and fainting and having weird hallucinations that are not, as I have said, explained at all. I wanted to beat Cass over the head with something heavy and blunt so many times.
Believability: Ah, now we get to another aspect of the story that bothered me to no end. This is supposed to be Renaissance Venice. How far into the Renaissance, the Author wisely doesn’t say (otherwise there would be even more historical inaccuracies), but even so, there were things that I just couldn’t overlook. Inaccuracy Number One: young, rich, unmarried women in Venice did not go about in public without a veil. This was a huge no-no in the Renaissance, as was going about without a male escort. But Cass is somehow exempt from these rules. Inaccuracy Number Two: the Author’s excessive use of steel. At this point, steel was only used for weaponry, and cast iron for everything else. There were not steel pans or steel cressets; they were cast iron. Inaccuracy Number Three: Falco uses iodine to clean a cut on Cass’s hand. While the Author doesn’t directly say that it is iodine, it most obviously is. This is a significant problem, since iodine was not discovered until 1811. At one point, Cass is reading a book of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s plays weren’t put into an official “published” book until 1623, so we will assume that the story takes place after 1623, making this okay. But Cass describes the playwright as being the “little known Shakespeare.” The publication of The First Folio is what really made him famous, so for Cass to describe his as not very well known is not likely. The Author’s prostitutes are also way too pretty to have been in the trade for long. Prostitutes don’t keep their good looks for long. Also, “goblet” and “mug” are not interchangeable terms.
Writing Style: While the writing style wasn’t horrible, the Author was excessively - and I mean excessively - fond of superfluous detail. She described positively everyone’s clothes, didn’t realize that there was another word than “plunging” to describe a neckline, and reiterated the ridiculousness of the farthingale every bloody time one made an appearance. She also had a preoccupation with describing naked women’s bodies (has Cass never looked in a mirror? Seriously!), and having Cass express her dislike for corsets and fine dresses and chopines and needlework. For one thing, this sort of characteristic has been used to death by Authors and female protagonists living in an era of rather ridiculous fashion. For another, Cass behaved like someone would who was from the 21st century and then donned a Renaissance-era costume. She didn’t behave like someone who had grown up wearing corsets and farthingales and false sleeves and chopines and heavy fabrics. I did like the Author’s use of Italian, but she also failed to put a glossary in the back, and she used a lot of Italian words in that didn’t make its meaning evident by just looking at how it was used.
Content: Cass witnesses a prostitute entertaining a male customer (pg. 130-131). It’s detailed enough to be highly inappropriate - and it was completely unnecessary. The only thing it did was make Cass begin to wonder what it would be like to do it with Falco, and how such thoughts were important to the development of their relationship is beyond me. While that is the most graphic scene, there is a constant sexual undertone with all of the prostitutes and Falco’s one-liners and Cass’s lustful thoughts.
Conclusion: This is what clenched it for me in terms of just being bad. The Author throws the Reader a ton of red herrings about who the murderer is, and then springs a “Nope! It’s this guy!” But here’s the problem: the guy who ends up being the murderer is hardly in the story at all; in fact, he is completely forgettable, due both to lack of personality and a significant absence in the storyline. So rather than having the effect of “Oh my gosh, I totally didn’t see that coming; how cool!” the revelation instead has the effect of “What?! That’s just . . . lame. I feel cheated of a good villain. I want my time back!!” And so, my overall opinion of this book is: it was horrible, in every possible way. Perhaps, if the Author had focused more on the murder and the secret societies that didn’t come into play, the plot could have at least saved the book a bit. The lack of characters and historical inaccuracies would have still grated on my nerves, but it would have at least gotten one star extra for plot. As it is, this was a complete failure and I will not read the sequel.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read (and a guy-read for those guys who like to read about naked ladies), eighteen-and-up due to content. Girls who love Twilight might enjoy this, actually.
Others in the Secrets of the Eternal Rose Trilogy: