Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
It is 1750 in the glittering city of Venice, Italy and the spectacle that is Carnevale is just about to get underway. Orelia Rossetti is new to Venice, a stranger to the city. She’s lost everything and now she seeks answers, finding her way to the home of her uncle, Giovanni Contarini, a powerful senator. He takes her in under the proviso that she never admit to anyone that she is his niece – instead she is to claim that she is his goddaughter, an orphan from Rome.
Giovanni’s daughter Angelique loves Carnevale – it is her favourite time of the year and the celebrations give her ample opportunities to parade beautiful new dresses and elaborate new masks. This season she’s got her eye on the biggest prize of all, the handsome and eligible Bastian Donato. He’s the son of the Doge and the one all of the girls want. But Bastian has other ideas about what he wants out of life, preferring to date widely and unwisely. While Angelique plots, Bastian and his best friend Marco D’Este make a sly little bet.
Angelique’s sister Veronica cares little for Carnevale and for love. She doesn’t want to be married and she’s worked out the most perfect plan to avoid any suitors. However Luca Boccassio, the newest man who looks to step forward and ask her father’s permission doesn’t seem as easily put off as the rest of them…
Servant to the Contarini household Anna is just one more person with a secret. She desperately needs money so that she can help someone she loves but the only way to get what she needs might be to betray someone else.
Claudia D’Este is the daughter of a prominent social climber who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the elite. But all Claudia wants is to be away from her mother’s schemes and be happy with the boy she loves. But her mother considers no one less than Bastian Donato to be suitable for Claudia and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him to help restore the family name.
For this group of teenagers, things after this Carnivale will never be the same again.
I first had my attention drawn towards this book at the PTA Live event that I attended in Melbourne way back in April of this year. The cover wasn’t final then but it was enough and also the description, to immediately hook me in. I’m always on the lookout for books that are fresh and feel different and this one definite ticks those boxes. I haven’t read a YA books set in Venice, let alone one from 1750. And so I couldn’t wait to read this when it arrived on my doorstep.
Immediately the book hooks you in with a mystery – who is Orelia and what is she searching for in Venice? Why did her mother flee the city and never return? I couldn’t wait to know more. Not only is Orelia searching for answers, but she’s very much a fish out of water in Venice. She and her mother lived in a very small village and she’s utterly unused to the glitter and wealth that surrounds the influential families in Venice. And the politics of socialising as well as the desperate clamour by some to get what they want, but Orelia gets quite an education, especially when she catches the eye of the most eligible bachelor, Bastian Donato, who dances with her at the first ball Orelia attends. Orelia isn’t there to find a husband and even if she was, Bastian is not only the one that mothers want for their daughters, he’s the one that Orelia’s own cousin, Angelique, wants for herself as well. Which does complicate matters.
What I loved about this book was despite all of the romantic entanglements and intrigue, they never took over the story of Orelia exploring Venice and where her mother came from and trying to find out the secret behind her fleeing it. She was from a wealthy, privileged family and for her to leave and raise Orelia as a single mother, which was obviously frowned upon, with very little money, it must’ve been something very big. She is always hushed, told never to reveal who her true mother is, to stick to the story that she’s the orphaned goddaughter that has been taken in. Even when she does begin to lose her heart, she still remains focused on finding out what she wants to know – what she needs to know.
The setting is so intriguing – I don’t know much about Venice and certainly not Venice from close to three centuries ago. But the descriptions of elaborate palazzos and the dresses and beautiful eye masks. The author Kylie Fornasier has put together a Pinterest board where you can go and see some of the pictures she has gathered of some of the clothing, masks, paintings of scenery etc and I found this so helpful both when I started reading and also when I’d finished, to just browse through and let the picture build itself up within my mind. It really helps flesh everything out, especially if you’re not very familiar with that era and require a few visuals to help acquaint yourself with the setting and the glamorous lifestyle of the rich and powerful as well as the simple things like the undergarments and hairstyles.
Feels like everything was just starting to really ramp up and become more intricate and I was really excited to find out what happened next when the ending came! I think that as a stand alone, this works well enough but there’s definitely enough done at the end to set up really nicely for a sequel. There are a lot of things left unresolved in a way, for a couple of the characters. I hope there is another book, because I’d really like to revisit this world in the future. The only negative for me is that I didn’t really get the appeal of Bastian beyond the fact that he’s the son of the Doge. The bet does him no favours although the way it played out was unexpected and I really approved of that. I love Orelia for the strength and character she displays. I think another book would probably give Bastian a chance to shine and become the person that he wants to be.
This was highly enjoyable – fun, clever and quite different from the other YA novels I’ve been reading of late.
Book #149 of 2014
Masquerade is book #57 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014