From School Library Journal
Gr 6-9–An exotic setting and delicious intrigue combine to make intense historical fiction in this tale of missing persons, murder, and, of course, romance. English merchant Master Ashby heads to Venice in 1602 to investigate the murder of his agent Salerio and the strange disappearance of a young Jewish girl accused of witchcraft by the cruel, conniving wife of the Count of Montemaro. Accompanied by his sister Bess; his daughter Celia; and Ned Fletcher, his clerk and orphaned charge, Ashby and his alchemist friend Dr. Leone soon find themselves entangled in a morass that involves Venetian pirates, mistaken identities, and the poisoning of the Count. At the same time, Ned and Celia discover not only the truth behind the sinister events, but also their love for one another. Cleverly plotted, the novel is filled with accurate historical details of both the cultural and legalistic aspects of 17th-century Venetian life. Seemingly disconnected developments eventually meld into a reasonable whole, although some parts lean a bit heavily toward contrivance. Celia and Ned are well-developed as characters–she the feisty, adventure-loving beauty and he the loyal-to-the-core romantic. Short declarative sentences advance the plot, and sophisticated and sometimes-obscure vocabulary permeates the prose. There are a few too-contemporary expressions, which mar the flow of the text. In addition, the scene in which Ned finally confesses his affection for Celia seems overly gushy and not in keeping with his earlier reserve. Still, the story is engaging and will appeal to readers who might be too young for Donna Jo Napoli's Daughter of Venice (Random, 2002).Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, The Naples Players, FL
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Inspired by both The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet, Australian author Masson offers an intricate historical mystery. In 1602 London, Ned, a young clerk, is thrilled when his employer, Master Ashby, decides to take his daughter, Celia, and Ned with him to Venice, where he seeks information about a piracy ring that has hobbled his business. The trip’s mission expands after Ashby is asked to investigate the disappearance of a friend’s daughter, and once in Venice, Celia (an almost stereotypically plucky heroine) endeavors to find the missing girl, a search that unwittingly leads her, Ned, and an assorted cast of brave young people into a web of intrigue spun by a murderous countess. Numerous contrivances link the tangled story line all the way to an overcrowded ending, and purposeful passages of dialogue that fill in plot clues and characters’ motivations may slow some readers. Still, the vivid setting includes rare views of life for Venetian Jews, and tense action scenes and several blossoming romances, including Ned and Celia’s, will help keep readers engaged. Grades 7-10. --Gillian Engberg