The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato

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This is so well-written that it’s hard not to get confused about what’s fact and what’s fiction! The facts are that Venice was struck by a severe outbreak of plague in 1576-7, that Palladio designed a church which was seen as a thanksgiving for the end of the epidemic, that one of the islands in the lagoon was used for treating patients in isolation and that, as was to happen in London the following century, a great fire broke out which was to have the silver lining of helping to rid the city of infection. And, of course, that, especially at this time, so soon after the Battle of Lepanto, Venice and the Ottoman Empire were bitter enemies.

According to some sources, although other sources say otherwise, the mother of the Sultan of the time was Cecilia Baffo-Venier, the cousin (although the book has her being his niece) of Sebastiano Venier, who became Doge of Venice in 1577. Feyra, the fictional heroine of this book, is a) a doctor and b) the illegitimate daughter of Cecilia and an Ottoman sea-captain. Her half-brother, the Sultan, poisons their mother, but, before her death, Cecilia’s able to tell Feyra that he plans to destroy Venice by sending a man suffering from the plague to infect the city, and that fire and war will follow death … a bit like in the Book of Revelations. Feyra’s unable to prevent the outbreak of plague, but she ends up joining the (fictional) Venetian doctor who’s set up the isolation hospital on the island … whereupon, of course, they fall in love. And her ideas about treating the patients are much more efficacious than his! She can’t prevent the fire, which the book shows as being started by the Ottomans too, either, but she is eventually able to meet the Doge and warn him of the Ottomans’ plans to invade.

Somehow, that doesn’t make the book sound nearly as good as it is! It’s not particularly long, but it is gripping. Venice and Constantinople, two incredible cities, at a fascinating point in both their histories. Plague, intrigue, romance … this is one of several books on Venice which have been sitting in my to be read pile, and it was a very good one to get going with!

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