Review: Venice- A New History by Thomas F. Madden

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Thomas Madden’s majestic, sprawling history of Venice is the first full portrait of the city in English in almost thirty years. Using long-buried archival material and a wealth of newly translated documents, Madden has weaves a spellbinding story of a place and its people, tracing an arc from the city’s humble origins as a lagoon refuge to its apex as a vast maritime empire and Renaissance epicenter to its rebirth as a modern tourist hub.

Madden explores all aspects of Venice’s breathtaking achievements: the construction of its unparalleled navy, its role as an economic powerhouse and birthplace of capitalism, its popularization of opera, the stunning architecture of its watery environs, and more. He sets these in the context of the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire, the endless waves of Crusades to the Holy Land, and the awesome power of Turkish sultans. And perhaps most critically, Madden corrects the stereotype of Shakespeare’s money-lending Shylock that has distorted the Venetian character, uncovering instead a much more complex and fascinating story, peopled by men and women whose ingenuity and deep faith profoundly altered the course of civilization.

Read to coincide with my reading of The Visitant, Venice: A New History is thoroughly enlightening in regards to a city mainly known today for romance and tourism. Venice, as presented in this book, is so much more than that that perhaps the saddest part is that the once proud empire has be reduced to a honeymoon destination. Venice consistently stood out in Italian history as a republic, created by flight from barbarians invading the area. Its governance was unique and not only that, it maintained this uniqueness for centuries. Constantly caught in clashes with the Turks and Ottoman Empire, deeply devout, thoroughly efficient in business, and espoused to maritime trade and the navy, Venice has a rich history almost separate from that of the rest of Italy.

Often painted as the villain, Venice was merely being true to itself and often was an easy target to other jealous European powers. In truth the city was far more peaceable and fair than most of the rest of Europe and most of all thoroughly tied to trade. A fascinating look at a very different Italian city.

4 out of 5

Review: Shadow on the Highway by Deborah Swift

 

downloadAbigail Chaplin has always been unable to find a position as a maidservant like other girls, because she is deaf. So why do the rich Fanshawes of Markyate Manor seem so anxious to employ her? And where exactly does her mistress, Lady Katherine, ride out to at night?

SHADOW ON THE HIGHWAY is based on the life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the highwaywoman, sometimes known as The Wicked Lady. A tale of adventure and budding romance set in the turbulent English Civil War, this is a novel to delight teens and adults alike.

This book is a light read, good for summers on the beach. If you’re going in expecting this to be an adventure about highwaymen, you will be disappointed. The fact that Lady Katherine spends her spare time robbing people is only vaguely dealt with. Most of this is about a group called the Diggers and Abigail and Katherine’s involvement with them. Katherine is a character who is difficult to like. She’s a noblewoman, so her relationship with Abigail is sometimes complicated because she can be viciously arrogant and demanding any time Abigail balks at doing things for her mistress that could get her or her family in trouble. The only saving grace for the character is the fact that she is abysmally treated by her father in law and later by the slimy land manager looking to wrest control of her estates from her. For a strong willed, feisty woman, her predicament is fairly bleak considering there is no one standing up for her.

Abigail is the most interesting addition, her deafness being an important part of the plot. Her disability causes significant complications for her, but it also is something she steadfastly works with. Her frustration with her employer is understandable as Katherine not only involves her in dangerous schemes, but also her brother, much of the time taking no consideration about how these situations could affect her maid and her family. Ultimately this was an enjoyable read, though not at all focused on what they cover and back make you think it is.

3 out of 5

Review: Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto

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The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

I suppose this novel would technically be considered a steampunk, but the steampunk aspects are very secondary compared to the horror elements. Tangling with vampires, cannibals and leprechauns, Westie is a fairly unlikable heroine, though you understand her rage directed at almost everyone. The bigger question might be why she has any friends at all. She’s got a drinking problem and a tendency to jump to conclusions about who killed her family, leading to a lot of people doubting her when the actual killers of her family show up. One of the weakest aspects of the book is actually how long people continue to not believe her while bodies and evidence pile up, a fact that could have save several lives at the end. This book is also violent. Like extremely violent for a YA novel. A lot of people are murdered and eaten, there’s a Bad Seed style little girl, and the vampire who owns a brothel is actually one of the sympathetic characters.

There are a lot of features at work here and the novel shouldn’t work as well as it does. Aside from some cliched elements, the bizarre plot of a teenage girl with a drinking problem on the hunt for the cannibals who killed her family functions well as a mystery. The romance element seems rather shoehorned in and Alistair is sort of a flat character, but the action is strong and carries itself in spite of any flaws. I was actually reminded of the Dead Iron series by this book more than anything else, which is a compliment.

4 out of 5