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Son of Venice: A Story of Marco Polo Paperback – June 1, 2012
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About the Author
Dori Jones Yang has written a wide variety of books, including a best-selling business book on Starbucks Coffee, an award-winning children's book about an immigrant girl from China, and the acclaimed historical novel Daughter of Xanadu. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, she studied history at Princeton and international relations at Johns Hopkins, and she worked as a Business Week correspondent covering China for eight years.
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Part adventure and part love story, Son works well on both levels. The buildup to the attack is well-paced, and from the attack on, the narrative proceeds at full speed, with enough plot twists and turns to keep the suspense relentless. The love affair between Emmajin and Marco that began in Daughter deepens in Son, fueled by intensifying passion and threatened by daunting obstacles, and forces both lovers to the edge of an emotional precipice.
Son is more psychologically complex than Daughter. A two-voice narrative technique allows the reader into the minds of both Emmajin and Marco. In two subplots, one involving a romance between Temur and Emmajin's maidservant/slave Nasreen, and the other a volatile relationship between Emmajin and her cousin Ai-Jaruk, another woman warrior, Jones probes the influences and experiences that shape character and impel choices.
In Son, Jones continues to explore the Mongol culture, evoking with vivid details the life-style of nomadic Mongols and describing the stunning contrast between Mongol hospitality and Mongol brutality. She prefigures what eventually happens to the Mongol Empire, and, once again, effectively deals with the theme of a nation's choice of ethos and goals, showing how ill-considered choices motivated by greed and lust for power will have tragic consequences.
The theme of loyalty vs. betrayal resonates throughout the novel and is explored in a variety of dimensions, including motivations, consequences, and the character qualities and circumstances that inform action.
I found Son of Venice to be absorbing, thoughtful, and insightful. As with Daughter, I continued to think about the novel's characters, historical context, and themes long after I had finished reading.
I generally save one star for books I abandon entirely, without finishing them. I almost quit reading at about 25%, but I pushed through, then skimmed the last couple chapters.
I know what this book was trying to do, particularly because the author kept comparing the story to Tristan and Isolde and other famous lovers. This series fails to evoke in me any feelings of those timeless love stories. Mostly what it evoked in me was endless feelings of annoyance and gagging. Emmajin and Marco will never be what this author wants them to be, no matter how many times she insists they are. Given what transpired in this book, the ending, and where it is going, I have absolutely no desire to continue this series. I don't care what happens to either Marco or Emmajin.
I don't know why I thought that Emmajin finally made a decision about Marco when she had "carnal relations" with him at the end of the first book. Clearly, I should have known better! Because one of the first things she talks about is how undecided she is about him still. ARE YOU SERIOUS. So, a "great" start to the book. It was even "better" when Emmajin said something about how she's not even sure they really HAD carnal relations. I just... What?? Was the author trying to say Emmajin knew they had carnal relations but it was so much more than that with their ever-twining souls yadayadayada or is the author trying to imply that Emmajin is somehow so naive about man/woman things that she didn't realize what Marco was actually doing to her and if so HOW COULD YOU NOT and, further, HOW IS THAT OKAY??
I am not above admitting that, at one point (maybe several points...), I had been rooting for Marco to get beheaded just so their ludicrous romance would be brought to an end. This would have better suited everyone, especially anyone tragically caught in the net of this disastrous, pointless love story (more on that later). I would rather Marco had died and Emmajin had married her first cousin Temur because that would have made more sense to me than Emmajin fawning over Marco.
This book has the same two problems as the first one, but times ten. I just cannot get over the pathetic, ever-changing, awkward nature of their "romance" and Emmajin's complete inability to make a decision about anything, which is particularly laughable when Marco at one point says something like, "I know from dealing with Emmajin not to try to change the mind of a strong woman once she's made a decision." I laughed out loud when I read that line because it only proved my point about how much they DON'T know about each other. Emmajin is NOT a strong woman, she cannot make decisions, their "love" has no basis, no point, no sense. It can't even be said that their love and all the pain it causes everyone else will at least unite Christendom and the Khan because THEY NEVER EVEN MADE IT TO ITALY.
Marco and Emmajin are tiresome, personality-less, flawed beyond reason, misguided, annoying, indecisive, and just plain boring. Marco, in particular, is entirely unattractive as a male figure. Eventually he sounds like a super-hairy, red ape with oddly colored eyes, no muscle strength, no skills in combat or survival, and an arguable ability to sway people with words. I couldn't even argue that his one redeeming quality is that he is a great lover because Emmajin wasn't even sure that they had done anything together when he seduces her in the ocean. Oh, yeah. Sign me up for some of that. (Not.) If I am reading a book and cannot envision myself being attracted to the male lead, then that is even more unfortunate for the book. All the things that Emmajin says are great about Marco, like how he makes her feel free, aren't even true. He hasn't made her feel free--in fact, I think she felt nothing but trapped since meeting him. Marco can only talk about how beautiful Emmajin is and, like with her, all the things he thinks are great about her as a person (like her "ability to make decisions") are not true. I just. I cannot get over how unattractive and confusing these characters are.
I think the moment I lost all respect for them was when poor Bartan was beheaded for telling the truth about seeing them after their little romp in the ocean. Bartan really should have known better than to spread rumors about a granddaughter of the Great Khan, regardless of whether they were true, because that could never end well. But, REALLY? There are loves that are timeless and full of enough wonder that they would be worth seeing a poor guy like Bartan get executed to protect the couple. But, Marco and Emmajin? NO. NONONO. And, somehow Marco can always save Emmajin with his "silver tongue," but neither of them could muster the ability and cleverness to save Bartan?
Marco is NOT WORTH the pain and suffering that Emmajin has caused around her, whether they were strangers (like poor Bartan), acquaintances (like Nasreem, or Marco's poor uncle and father), or family (her cousin, her grandmother, everyone). Their love is not ever-lasting. They don't feel like soulmates. It is all forced and awkward and has done nothing except endanger and punish other people. So much tragedy for absolutely NO reason.
Finally, a note about courtly love. The point of courtly love is that you HAVE urges toward each other, but you are wise enough to NEVER ACT ON THEM because it would simply do more harm than good. You flirt, you know how the other feels, you support each other, you might be the closest of friends and even bond along the lines of being soulmates, but to act on these things is simply unthinkable.
What Marco and Emmajin have is not an example of courtly love, but an example of selfish love.
If you want a truly timeless story about courtly love, go and read "Queen of Camelot" by Nancy McKenzie. One of the best books ever written in general, but particularly about courtly love, by an underrated, spellbinding author.