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The Venetian Mask, Rosalind Laker

This book didn’t start out very well.  It opens like a bad romance novel – clustered beautiful, flawless virgins in a convent, daring noblemen who want to steal that virginity, etc.  Luckily, The Venetian Mask improves once the plot gets going, about halfway through the book.  It centers around two girls, Elena and Marietta, who are best friends immediately after their joint entry into the convent, and both marry powerful, well-connected men who just happen to have a  family vendetta between them.  These matters complicate the relations between the friends and what happens next is what comprises the best part of the book.

The beginning feels too much like a summary.  The author picks up the lives of the girls at various points, but all she manages to show is that convent life is restrained and boring and as a result the girls fall in love far too easily.  As a side note, the love is this book is extremely unrealistic, and mostly consists of what I’d call infatuation.  Fairly typical for a romance novel feel.  The book follows the girls’ exploits into this love, winding up with them married as mentioned.  Only then does the plot get interesting, about 200 pages into the book, so I won’t ruin anything else for other potential readers.

The writing similarly has a romance novel feel.  The book isn’t particularly written well and every character has that air of flawless beauty and everlasting sexual attraction.  They aren’t particularly compelling personally, either.  Both women have strength but in different ways, and neither of them have any discernible flaws.  The men are slightly better, but essentially either noble or wicked.

It gets interesting, though.  The plot moves quickly once it starts moving and I quite liked it.  It becomes fairly clear that this isn’t a romance novel despite its tepid beginning and the variety of relationships that spring up throughout the text.  And even though the characters aren’t exciting, I liked the women and I didn’t really want anything to happen to them.  The ending was about what I’d expected given the feel of the novel, although executed in a way I didn’t expect.

So, in conclusion, The Venetian Mask is a quick read and fairly enjoyable.  I’d probably recommend other historical fiction first, but I certainly wouldn’t dissuade someone from reading the book.

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