This book is one of the four books I picked up from SM North BOOKSALE just two weeks ago.
Yay for purchasing power!
I picked this up for P45. If you can get it for cheaps at BOOKSALE, get it there.
This book is NOT WORTH FULL PRICE.
FOLLOW THE JUMP FOR MY REVIEW
The setting is Renaissance Venice (16th Century). It's told through the POV of Hannah Levi, a Jewess midwife. Our conflict started when Isaac Levi, Hannah's husband, decided to sail away for greener pastures but whose ship was taken captive. He was stuck in Malta as a slave leaving Hannah in the Jewish ghetto to fare for herself. The story starts when an opportunity to get enough gold to ransom poor Isaac out of Malta knocked at the door... literally.
One night, midnight maybe, two nobles visited Hannah escorted by a good/bad rabbi. The Count needed Hannah to help his wife's difficult delivery. Rabbi doesn't want Hannah to get involved because it might bright carnage to the Ghetto. I get that. And up to this point, the story seemed really promising. And then, it was all downhill from there.
Hannah successfully delivers the Count's baby with the use of "birthing spoons" that she designed herself specifically to assist difficult births. This was fairly interesting. But then, everyone in the Count's household, excluding the Count himself and his wife, are bad. The brothers are neck deep in debt with Jewish lenders for their gambling addiction. The wet nurse is feeling insecure. Only bad things can happen now. Thank goodness because the depiction of Venice in this book is lackluster. Really. Fanfiction is better than this. Nay, my own fanfiction is better than this. There were pages of acknowledgements written by the author to thank all those who helped her in her research (as well as other things). But really, she could have brought so much more to the book. It's extra disappointing because I really enjoy reading historical fiction. I love how authors weave their research into stories. But that didn't happen there. I don't want to say that Rich couldn't write. It's better to say that she needs to research a bit more. For example, the ghetto is cramped. I know this because she told me point blank. I understand that this book is meant as a lighter read than, say, Philippa Gregory. But I wanted MORE grit. The population of Venice is wiped out every summer from the plague. I know that there's grit to be had. Yet, I feel like I was cheated out of it. I didn't feel "transported" to Venice or anywhere else for that matter.
It kept going downhill with Isaac's chapters. I know next to nothing about Malta. After reading this book, that has not changed. Where's my politics eh? Where's death and hopelessness? Where are all the people in Malta? Where are all the people in Venice? It's like the characters lived in a bubble. They would not let themselves be integrated into their environment. The narrative is bland. I found myself fighting to skip pages. Plus, I wanted Hannah. I don't really care for Isaac. I understand that Isaac is an intelligent man who wanted to do his best for his family (just Hannah). But he left Hannah to herself at the time when women really can't own property, with limited opportunities, etc. Naturally, Hannah didn't want Isaac to go. Her motivations were purely emotional and there's nothing about finances. It was mentioned later on that Hannah was poor and couldn't afford an orange or something. How poor was poor? What was poor in Venice? We all knew what rich was, of course. But the standard of living was very vague in this book. The hierarchy existed but what was the difference? I feel like the author had never lived in a third world country where the difference between rich and poor are stark. It's like the author isn't observant enough.
The rest of the book is supposed to have the high climax when the uncles are being bad. Don't worry. I'm not spoiling it. We are introduced to Hannah's sister, who was far more interesting than Hannah. I can't help feeling that if we only followed Hannah's sister, we would have gotten a lot more out of it. But then, the characterization was as bland as Venice. It was 2-D. I can't build a connection with them. I had better luck building a connection with the birthing spoons. I love the spoons.
The premise was wonderful. But, the execution was terrible. What a waste of an exciting idea!
GOODREADS ENTRY - CLICK HERE
CURRENTLY READING: The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
(This will be the next Island Reads entry.)