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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Split Personalities

The Rossetti Letter
Christi Phillips

Pocket Books, 2007

Claire Donovan always dreamed of visiting Venice, especially now that she needs to research her Ph.D. thesis on Alessandra Rossetti, a mysterious courtesan who wrote a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. Claire views Alessandra as a heroine and harbors a secret hope that her findings will elevate Alessandra to a more prominent place in history. But an arrogant Cambridge professor is set to present a paper at a prestigious Venetian university denouncing Alessandra as a co-conspirator -- a move that could destroy Claire's paper and career. Not having any other options, Claire agrees to chaperone a surly teenager to Venice in exchange for her airfare and accommodations so she can finish her research and publish her results before the professor publishes his findings first. As Claire races to locate the documents that will reveal the courtesan's true motives, Alessandra's story featuring sensuality, political treachery, and violence of seventeenth-century Venice is revealed. Claire also falls under the city's spell. She is courted by a handsome Italian, matches wits with her academic adversary, bonds with her troubled young charge, and, amid the boundless beauty of Venice, recaptures the joy of life she thought she had left behind.

Alternating chapters between Claire’s and Alessandra’s stories do not work together well. There’s a lack of meaning and emotion in the historical chapters which creates a gap between the reader and the events and characters portrayed in 16th century Venice. It is hard to identify with Alessandra or her contemporaries, and it is even harder to keep all the characters straight. I wanted to skip past the historical accounts and get back to the business at hand: will Claire discover the truth about the Spanish Conspiracy? I understood Claire’s anxiety about her research and her life plans; I sympathized with her reluctance to enter into a romantic engagement; I fully appreciated her troubles with the snotty teenager who eventually turned into a decent sort of person. But then I had to slug through those historical chapters again, which were BORING. In my opinion. Cool cover, though.

For the record, I usually like historical fiction.

Rating for Claire’s chapters:

Rating for Alessandra’s chapters:

This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss (2000)
Benjamin Weaver is an outsider in eighteenth-century London: a Jew among Christians; a ruffian among aristocrats; a retired pugilist who, hired by London's gentry, travels through the criminal underworld in pursuit of debtors and thieves. Now he is investigating a crime of the most personal sort: the mysterious death of his estranged father, a notorious stockjobber. Between him the answers is a network of secrecy, deception and violence.

The Stalking Horse by Miriam Monfredo (1998)
Based on an actual event, The Stalking-Horse is set on the eve of the American Civil War. Glynis Tryon's niece, Bronwen, has joined Pinkerton's Detective Agency. While on her first assignment in secessionist Alabama, two of her fellow agents are murdered. When word reaches Seneca Falls that Bronwen is in trouble, Glynis heads south and finds her niece caught in the midst of a diabolical plot designed to strike at the heart of the United States government.

Ex-Libris by Ross King (2001)Responding to a cryptic summons to a remote country house, London bookseller Isaac Inchbold finds himself responsible for restoring a magnificent library pillaged during the English Civil War, and in the process slipping from the surface of 1660s London into an underworld of spies and smugglers, ciphers and forgeries. As he assembles the fragments of a complex historical mystery, Inchbold learns how Sir Ambrose Plessington, founder of the library, escaped from Bohemia on the eve of the Thirty Years War with plunder from the Imperial Library. Inchbold’s hunt for one of these stolen volumes -- a lost Hermetic text -- soon casts him into an elaborate

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