The Venetian BargainReviewed by Colleen Turner

In 1576 Constantinople, Feyra is working as the harem doctor for the Sultan’s mother when her mistress is poisoned. Before she dies Feyra is given startling information, including the fact that the Sultan is sending deadly cargo to the Ottoman Empire’s greatest enemies in Venice aboard Feyra’s father’s boat. Feyra stows away in the bowels of her father’s boat in the hopes of not only stopping this deadly cargo from arriving but to escape her fate at being made to join the harem now that her mistress is dead. It is while hiding that Feyra becomes very sick and, upon recovering, discovers the cargo the vicious Sultan has sent: a man infected with the plague will be unleashed on Venice to infect and kill the enemy. Against all her attempts to keep Death from stepping onto Venetian ground she cannot stop its attack on the citizens she has been raised to hate. The healer in Feyra cannot stand idly by and watch Death spread without doing everything in her power to help.

Witnessing the continued depravity and decadence of his people and not knowing of the Sultan’s actions, the Doge of Venice is determined the pestilence befalling them is a punishment from God. Seeing science is doing very little to stop it he commands architect Andrea Palladio to build a grand church to not only bring the people back to God but to please God so he will take away the disease. To ensure Palladio lives to finish his masterpiece the Doge charges the greatest plague doctor in the city, Annibale Cason, with keeping Palladio alive. But Annibale has plans that far exceed saving one man: he is building a quarantine hospital on a nearby island and is determined to prove that science, not faith, will safe Venice from total ruin.

Finding themselves drawn together with a common goal, Annibale is shocked to find his equal in medical knowledge and determination in Feyra even if they do not always agree with each other’s methods. As they work side by side to banish this horrid pestilence moving all around them they will find themselves growing closer and closer together. But what kind of life can they have with each other when they come from enemy nations with no common God and no guarantee that either will come out alive?

This is my first book by Marina Fiorato and The Venetian Bargain simply blew me away with its poetic, fluid and immensely descriptive language. It was easy to see the beautiful architecture, flora and clothing all around the characters in both Venice and Constantinople. I was absolutely drawn in by the passages dealing with the symptoms and effects of the plague as well as the intricacies of the various treatments and cures given to the sufferers. Seeing the differences between the old, often comical treatments used by the traditional doctors and the more “modern” methods Annibale and Feyra utilized was fascinating. It is clear to me that a lot of research was done to give the reader a clear picture of what a plague sufferer experiences and what does and doesn’t work as treatment.

The characters were wonderful as well. Feyra is such an intelligent, feisty character and it was remarkable seeing her maneuver in a country that did not understand her value. Annibale was harder to warm to, being standoffish and rude in an attempt to keep from having to care for anyone else when no one has truly cared for him, but seeing his transformation as Feyra’s light and love changed him made me love him a little bit myself. And the Sultan, who uses such a diabolical instrument as germ warfare to weaken his enemy and make them a prime target for his continued evil machinations, has quite the sinister effect on the whole story even as he plays such a minor part overall. All the characters, whether major or minor players, are well developed and fit nicely into the overall story.

The Islamic concept of Mizan – the balance of all things – provides the framework around the story. From the balance between science and faith, mind and body, give and take, a balance is needed before a calm can be found. And balanced is exactly what The Venetian Bargain is – a highly entertaining, well executed historical novel that deals with a situation in history not often discussed.  I am now thoroughly excited to read more by Marina Fiorato.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Griffin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.