Pub 10-2012, Philomel
You must understand how incredible it is that Venom is Fiona Paul’s debut novel. The plot, the settings, the themes just blew me away from the start. Paul has an incredible talent for imagery that she combines with historical facts, and a fantastical plot, making this an interesting read through and through. Readers have a lot to look forward to with Paul’s promise of future books.
Venom takes place in Venice, Italy and is told from the point of view of a high-class teenage girl named Cassandra Caravello. After Cass’s parents are said to be deceased she comes to stay at her Aunt Agnese’s house, which is on the island of San Dominico, and is as run-down and worn out as the owner. Cass is as headstrong and willful as her Aunt is restrictive. Her Aunt is only focused on Cass’s social status staying unblemished, so Cass’s freedom is limited.
Cass and Falco, a painter she meets on the streets, get involved in an invigorating adventure when they discover a murdered girl has replaced Cass’s friend in her tomb. When Cass receives a letter claiming she will be next, they set off to identify the murderer — and hopefully find her friend’s lost body, as well! Multiple theories about the murderer lead them in different directions, until the killer finally decides to keep his word and go after Cass.
The relationship between Cass and Falco is very unique. Love at first sight is a common trope in YA literature, but the way Paul weaves the experiences Cass and Falco share into situational coincidences, then a partnership, and then eventually into a passionate longing for each other, was lovely. But sometimes their bond felt insecure to me. Like a rope, fraying from the deceitfulness of Falco and Cass’s understanding that their relationship will be forbidden by everyone she knows. I never could tell if it was love or lust that the two felt for each other. And then Paul throws in a reliable fiancé/childhood friend that was chosen for Cass, just to confuse things. The question becomes: Will Cass stay loyal to Luca, her fiancé, or will she give in to her undeniable feelings for Falco? Or is there another path altogether that she might take?
The only thing that threw me a little about Venom was the attempt to create a villain you love to hate, which every romantic suspense desires. In these types of books, the antagonist takes on greater importance than most characters, even when their identity is unknown. The plot often revolves around what the villain has done or is planning to do, but we also have to understand the villain’s motivation in order for the character to meld with the story. I felt that this wasn’t very clear in Venom. A villain needs to be distinctive, and Venom does not have that, unfortunately.
Other features of Venom were absolutely brilliant. I loved every single casual quote that revealed the age in which this story occurred. Most of the syntax used was old-fashioned, and that’s what draws you into the Renaissance-style world, yet Paul wrote Venom in a way that is comprehensible to a person accustomed to modern dialogue. Paul’s use of imagery is incredible, as well. I felt like I truly went back in time, and didn’t even think of the present until I finished, placed the book down, and returned to reality. And of course, the imagery did not falter until the book was finished.
This story was the perfect balance of romance, mystery, yearning for free will, and danger. The multiple twists and turns, plus the gut-wrenching decisions that will leave you in a whirlwind of emotions, give this book a well-earned place among my favorites.
- Marissa W., 16