i. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
ii. Dracula – Bram Stoker
1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
2. Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay
3. Only Human – Gareth Roberts
4. Beautiful Chaos – Gary Russell
5. The Silent Stars – Dan Abnett
6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
7. Every Breath – Ellie Marney
8. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
9. Delirium – Lauren Oliver
10. Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
11. Requiem – Lauren Oliver
12. Venom – Fiona Paul
13. Belladonna – Fiona Paul
14. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Whenever I walk into a book shop my first stop, after the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section, is Young Adult. As soon as I walk into that section filled with books about teenagers and teenagers’ problems, I get a twinge of guilt. As a twenty-one year old almost graduate of a writing degree, I should be walking among the titles in “Literary Fiction”, “Australian Fiction”, and “Classics”. And I do walk into those sections. I actually have a bunch of those $10 Penguin books on my wish list at this very moment. Plus, it is my mission to buy every Sherlock Holmes story, starting with the BBC reissues. I read Belinda Alexandra, an incredibly talented Aussie writer. Her latest novel, Golden Earrings is extraordinary. For anyone who is a fan of strong female protagonists and a little bit of historical fiction, I definitely recommend her. I also read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and am breathlessly awaiting the final instalment set to be released next year. I am no stranger to “adult” fiction. I even enjoy it. But at heart I am a YA reader, first and foremost.
Because of my love for YA, I broke my golden rule and started reading the next book in the “Secrets of the Eternal Rose” trilogy before I wrote this entry. I am actually halfway through Belladonna but I promise not to reveal any spoilers for that book here. What does my love for YA have to do with any of this? Well, it has been a while since I have read a YA novel that was so forcibly based in reality. Actually, now I think about it, none of the YA novels I read are at all realistic. They all have elements of the fantastic or the unbelievable. There you go. I am definitely a one genre kind of girl. But Fiona Paul seduced me into cheating on my genre with her Venom.
What I love most about Venom is the fact that it is historical YA. Maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough, but I have not seen that many books in the YA section that are situated in the past. I found a couple while I was in Dymocks the other day, but the majority of books in that section are fantasy, sci-fi, spec fic, or chick lit. Historical fiction is a part of YA that has been horrifically overlooked. Thank you, Fiona Paul.
Cass Caravello is our heroine. She’s a noblewoman, engaged to a man she has not seen for years, lives with her strict Aunt Agnese after her parents passed away, and is a devout Christian. A religious YA protagonist. Can’t say I’ve read too many of them. As a noblewoman, Cass could have come across as spoiled. You know the type: the rich heiresses and heirs who are bored with the expectations placed upon them and rebel, usually spending an inordinate amount of their parents’ fortune in the process. But Cass is definitely not like that. Paul created a kind of foil for Cass in Madalena Rambaldo, Cass’ best friend. Now that is one spoiled rich girl. Don’t get me wrong, Madalena is a lovely, lovely girl. Caring, vivacious, and absolutely besotted with her fiancé Marco, but she has no idea of the value of money. She spends and spends and has money spent and spent on her. In contrast, Cass seems responsible and demure, despite the fact that she in honestly unaware how much easier her life is because of the money her parents have left to her. That is, until she meets Falco.
Ah, Falco. Of course there’s a Falco in this book. The alluring working class artist with piercing blue eyes, who is equal parts angel and devil. And Cass falls head over heels in love with him. This is not a spoiler. You expect this from the get go, but this doesn’t make the passion between these two star-cross’d lovers any less intriguing. Because Paul has a few fabulous tricks up her sleeve.
Not only is Venom an historical piece, but it also has a few touches of murder mystery threaded through the streets of Venice. This is established in the very first few pages. We sit with Cass during the funeral being held for her friend Liviana and follow her back to her villa. Unable to sleep, Cass wanders down to the cemetery just outside her villa and unconsciously beelines for Liviana’s tomb. It is there that Cass discovers her friend’s body has been replaced by a young woman’s corpse which is wearing a necklace of bruises and a bloody X over her heart. This launches Cass into a quest to discover who has done this and where her friend’s body has been taken. Cass takes this journey with Falco and as her affection for him develops, so does her absolute certainty that he is hiding something. But is it what you think?
Another impressive thing about Paul’s Venom was the fact that the “Eternal Rose” was not once mentioned. At the beginning of each chapter is an excerpt from “The Book of the Eternal Rose”, but that is all we get. I loved that. Like a suspended storyline that you don’t realise is missing until the very end. Only, it doesn’t make you angry. The only thing that could possibly be linked to the title is the repeated image of a rose inside a circle. But, again, I like the idea of not knowing.
When I first started reading this book, I had two dark clouds hanging over my head. The first was that a reviewer of Venom on GoodReads had compared it to the literary black hole that is Twillight. Every conversation, plot point, character, and place was subject to scrutiny. Does this remind me of Twilight? Is it well-written? Is Falco a cliché? But eventually, the voices in my head shut up and I could just enjoy the story.
The second cloud was the fact that, in the very first line of the acknowledgements in this book, Paul names Lauren Oliver. And after my disappointing foray into Oliver’s Delirium trilogy, I was worried about loving this book too much. These fears are unfounded. (Belladonna is just as amazing as Venom.)
There is also this beautiful line of the book that contextualises the story perfectly. No posters with dates on them, or specific versions of Bibles, or any of that nonsense. Simply:
The book was by a little-known English playwright named Shakespeare…
Gorgeous. And not only that but Cass is reading the first volume of Romeo and Juliet and doesn’t know the ending. She has the ending spoiled for her by her fiancé Luca, who comes back to Venice toward the end of the novel. The idea that someone doesn’t know the ending to Romeo and Juliet just blew my mind and situated the storyline for me like nothing else had. But now that I’ve brought up Luca, there is something I need to clarify. The whole love triangle thing has been done to death in YA. Whether it is the main plot, a subplot, or just a fact that the reader needs to know, the love triangle is a YA staple. So of course Cass falls in love with another man when her fiancé is so clearly in love with her. But here’s the thing…the relationships between these characters don’t read like a love triangle. When Cass tells Falco that she’s engaged and he shrugs and says he already knew. Wow. I suppose it is just another telling detail of the time period. A lot of married people had lovers. Maybe the Venetians weren’t as open about it as the French, but it happened and people just accepted it without publicly acknowledging it. But [SPOILER] when Falco leaves and Cass is faced with a fiancé who is a lot less obnoxious, and a lot more caring than she remembers, we see a girl who is faced with two different kinds of love: torrid and unstable, or stable and affectionate. I want to see how Paul resolves these relationships. Because I love Falco and I love Luca. How can they both be happy if only one of them can have the girl? Unless Paul pulls out some old school rules and has Cass with both men. But I think that would be untrue to the character. Cass is definitely monogamous, despite the fact that she cheats on her fiancé with a penniless painter.
For all of the murder, intrigue, beauty, love, passion, history, grave-robbing, and absentee roses, I give Venom
Read this book and read it now. Only, get the American cover. It’s so much prettier than the Aussie one.
- Gwen’s Thoughts on Venom by Fiona Paul (Secrets of the Eternal Rose Book 1) (gwenkatelibrary.wordpress.com)