Synopsis: Venice, La Serenissima. A city that speaks eternally of mystery, of beauty, of danger…
In this captivating debut, Christi Phillips blends fact, fiction, and suspense into a richly imagined novel that transports the reader to Venice, past and present.
1618. A beautiful young courtesan writes a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Republic, thereby endangering both herself and her lover. Who was the mysterious Alessandra Rossetti, and why did she choose such a perilous path?
Today. Ph.D. candidate Claire Donovan races to locate the documents that will finally reveal the motives of this woman whom history forgot. As she searches the ancient city of Venice, she too falls under its spell.
As this complex story weaves together the strands of two different eras, Alessandra’s secret past comes to life with all the sensuality, political treachery, and violence of seventeenth-century Venice. Filled with beautifully rendered details of one of the world’s oldest and most magical cities, The Rossetti Letter marks Phillip’s debut as a writer of extraordinary skill and grace.
My Review: I can’t quite remember when I last liked a book as much as I liked this one. It was charming, pulled me in from the start, and I find it difficult to think of anything wrong with it. In fact, my only complaint is that it ended too quickly and I wanted to see more of these characters!
This novel alternates between the past, where the events are taking place in Alessandra’s world, and the present, where Claire is researching those events. I loved that Alessandra’s story starts before her life as a courtesan and we get enough back story to truly understand her situation and the decisions she made. I always find that it’s so easy to forget how little options women had up until very recently – marry, convent, life of ill repute. I’m sure that reading an account like this one is a very romanticized version of what was undoubtedly a very dangerous profession, and sadly one of the only ways to be an independent woman in this time period.
Often, I will read a novel like this one and be very irritated with one or more of the characters who are meant to be very lovely, and I happily did not have that experience with this book. Even the people who were somewhat difficult were charming to me, with one exception, and that character is meant to be troublesome! Perhaps I, like Claire, was taken in with the magic and beauty of Venice and lost my head. Maybe a fictional gorgeous Italian man stole my heart for a few days too!
To me, this book is very much like The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, minus any witchcraft or paranormal events. The stories are very similar, and I loved that book, so there’s no surprise that I loved this one too. This is just straight up, lovely historical fiction, and reminds me that I should invest more time in historical fiction set in Italy, as I am enraptured each time I delve into it.
Furthermore, this book has really reinvigorated my desire to go to Italy and see the many culturally and historically significant locations. While we definitely have beautiful scenery where I live in Colorado, I’m pretty sure the city of Denver is not known for its longstanding history and architecture. I can think of few things more lovely than to go on a tour of the locations described in this book.
I really didn’t want to put this book down, and I was very sad that I was forced to do so because of pesky sleeping and work. If I had just one totally free day, I think I would have completed this book in one sitting. It’s just wonderful and I’m sure others will love it too!
Read this book if: You’re a fan of Italian, specifically Venetian, historical fiction, or just historical fiction in general, honestly. You won’t be disappointed with this one, and I’m sure you’ll get as caught up in it as I did. I’m really looking forward to the time when I get the chance to read more of Christi Phillips work!