Title: The Venetian Contract
Author: Marina Fioato
Publisher: John Murray
First Published: 21 June 2012
No .of pages: 416
Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
1576. Five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship steals unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man more dead than alive, disembarks and staggers into Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from Constantinople. Within days the city is infected with bubonic plague – and the Turkish Sultan has his revenge. But the ship also holds a secret stowaway – Feyra, a young and beautiful harem doctor fleeing a future as the Sultan’s concubine. Only her wits and medical knowledge keep her alive as the plague ravages Venice. In despair the Doge commissions the architect Andrea Palladio to build the greatest church of his career – an offering to God so magnificent that Venice will be saved. But Palladio’s own life is in danger too, and it will require all skills of medico Annibale Cason, the city’s finest plague doctor, to keep him alive. But what Annibale had not counted on was meeting Feyra, who is now under Palladio’s protection, a woman who can not only match his medical skills but can also teach him how to care.
It’s no secret that I adore historical fiction, but I’ve never been remotely attracted by any kind of medical drama. This novel may have changed that, as it blends the two perfectly. On one hand, we have the sumptuous sights and sounds of 16th Century Venice, complete with beautiful costuming, and on the other we have the tense atmosphere caused by an epidemic of a deadly disease that spreads like wildfire, and the lives of those whose life’s vocation is to contain and cure it, and it works incredibly well.
Bother Feyra and Anibale have an air of mystery about them – both have unusual histories they are unwilling to share with others if they can help it; both are reserved and secretive; both have a passion for medicine; but there the similarities end. Annibale keeps his distance and has trouble feeling any particular connection with his patients, whereas Feyra is in danger of feeling too much.
Behind it all is the intrigue of espionage and suspicion as Feyra attempts to avert a terrible war, whilst hiding all along that she, herself, is actually from the enemy camp. It’s a complex, tangled web and our characters have to tread carefully, not only to continue their work, but to ensure their own survival.
If you like historical fiction and/or medical dramas, you should really give this a try. Fiorato writes with a deft hand and creates a whirlwind world that is excitingly beautiful and uncertain.
Reviewed by Kell Smurthwait