The Venetian Contract
By: Marina Fiorato
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
In 1576, five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship slips unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man, more dead than alive, disembarks and staggers twoards the Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from the Turkish Sultan. Within days the city will be infected with bubonic plague – and the Turks will have their revenge.
For months the plague wreaks havoc on Venice. In despair, the Doge summons the architect Andrea Palladio and offers him a commission: the greatest church of his career, an offering to God so magnificent that Venice will be saved. Palladio’s own life is in danger too, and it will require all the skills of Dr Annibale Cason, the city’s finest plague doctor, to keep him alive. But what Dr Cason has not counted on is the other passenger who disembarked from the Turkish ship – a young and beautiful harem doctor whose skills will more than match his own.
I’ve been a fan of Marina Fiorato’s works over the years, especially since The Daughter of Siena (review). I was quite excited when I heard about this novel because it features Andrea Palladio, an eminent architect during the Renaissance. I learned a lot about him when I visited Vicenza a few years ago. Then, for whatever reason, I totally forgot that this novel was going to be released until last year when I finally got my hands on it. And I finally read it, lol.
Marina Fiorato once again does a beautiful job in bringing historical Italy to life, this time the infamous Venice. From the politics to the culture to the medicine of the time, it really feels like the characters are living and walking around in 16th century Venice. I think she also did a wonderful job with the research and the details about medieval medicine, both taught in Padua and the medicine practiced in the Ottoman Empire; it was very interesting to read about popular beliefs of the time and the latest research developments and techniques coming out of Padua and elsewhere. She also does a wonderful job balancing both the positive and negative aspects of the cultures that are featured in this book; no society is perfect and there are good and not so great people living wherever Feyra goes.
The characters were wonderful and their interaction a real highlight in the story. Feyra is a well-rounded character, gifted and tough. Annibale’s character was intriguing; he’s a rather grumpy character underneath the doctor’s mask (very interesting stuff, wearing the mask to distinguish his profession), very irascible, until he meets Feyra. But my favourite character was hands down Andrea Palladio himself. I don’t know much about his biography beyond his works but he was a very interesting character and he really comes to life in these pages. I love his interactions with Feyra and Anniable and his contemplations about the commission he was given by the Doge of Venice–I wished he had more scenes!
As an aside, a brief story about the photo on the left: I actually didn’t go to any of the surrounding islands when I was in Venezia but I did take a lot of photos from the Campanile beside San Marco so I did manage to take a picture of the Il Redentore 😉 You can read more about the church Palladio designed in its Wikipedia page.
The story itself was interesting. It took a while for the story to pick up, which is probably why it sat at my nighttable for quite a while longer than a book normally does for me, but once the characters do meet, the suspense and the political intrigue quite interesting. The romance between Feyra and Anniable did sort of go through some leaps and bounds midway so the progression didn’t feel as smooth, but given everything else that was going on in the story, I guess I didn’t mind it so much that their romance was not as developed or as much in the forefront.
Overall, The Venetian Contract is a wonderful story. Venice comes to life in this novel and there’s a bit of everything in this novel for historical fiction readers to enjoy: intrigue, romance, adventure, science and discovery, family drama. I recommend this novel if you’re a fan of historical fiction or books set in Italy.