This is the story of Marietta and Elena, two orphaned girls who meet at the Ospedale della Pieta, essentially a Venetian orphanage/music school. Circumstance finds the girls in their 20s and married Venice’s version of the Montagues and the Capulets: the Ceranos and the Torrisis, between whom was vendetta.
Perhaps the best developed characters in the novel were the Pieta and late 18th-century Venice. The Pieta was strict and watchful, but also kind in offering its girls a home and a future. Venice was just the opposite: secretive and debauched, violent, corrupt, and ruthless. Yet Venice was also alluring, freeing, and very attractive to the girls shut away in the strictures of the Pieta.
Unfortunately, Marietta and Elena, not to mention their friends Adrianna and Bianca, were not nearly as well developed as the Pieta and Venice. They are relatively shallow characters with valid but not complex motives for their actions.
To me, the most enjoyable part of the story was not the oft-mindless plot, but the glimpses of life in 18th-century Venice. For example, I had never heard of the completely different sort of orphanage that was the Pieta, nor did I know about the placing of denunciations in the Lion’s Mouth. Also quite interesting was the culture of mask wearing and secrecy of Venice. Lastly I learned of the significance to Venice of the Napoleonic Wars, which I did not previous know.
The storyline of this book is not fantastic, but it does seem that Ms. Laker did her research into the life and culture of Venice and, for that, the book was enjoyable.
Buy this book on Amazon: The Venetian Mask: A Novel