On the surface, The Venetian Mask is about love and friendship, and what one will do for them. In this novel, set in late-18th century Venice when the Venetian Republic was on the verge of collapse, two friends, Marietta and Elena, come together at the Ospedale della Pieta, where both are choir girls. Eventually both fall in love, but ultimately end up marrying men who are bitter rivals: Marietta marries the politically revolutionary (and practically a soothsayer) Domenica Torrisi, head of the Torrisi family, and Elena marries the cruel patriarch of the Celano clan, Filippo. Both women navigate their way through their respective marriages while ultimately trying to stay true to one another.
The major, obvious plus about the book is its setting. Venice here is much more than a place; it’s a character, too, and it leaps off the page. We witness everything that makes La Serenissima great, from Carnivale to the Marriage of the Sea ceremony, to the Inquisition and the inner workings of the Venetian judicial system, which wasn’t quite judicial (and we’re also introduced to the wells and Leads, two eerie prisons in the basement of the Doge’s palace, and the anonymous accusation boxes, in which any Venetian citizen could accuse another of anything).
I also enjoyed the plot of The Venetian Mask. The novel is heavily plot driven, and there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns.
My only problem with the novel is the characters; they’re a little too wooden and one-dimensional. Filippo is a stereotype, as is Alix, Marietta’s first love. And Elena and Marietta could be nearly indistinguishable from one another. But as I’ve said, the book is mostly plot-driven; despite its flaws, The Venetian Mask is a wonderful story about love in a time period that changed modern Europe. The Venice in which the novel takes place has disappeared, but the spirit of it is still there.