Plot Type: UF, HIS
The Fallen Blade: Act 1 of the Assassini (2011)
The Outcast Blade: Act 2 of the Assassini (3/2012)
The Exiled Blade: Act 3 of the Assassini (4/2012)
I apologize for being so late in reviewing this book—it just slipped by me. As the second part of the trilogy opens, Tycho, Lady Giulietta, and baby Leo are arriving back in Venice with the remains of their troops after having beaten back the Mamluks (in the thrilling battle that climaxed book 1). Unfortunately, that battle also resulted in the loss of most of the Venetian navy. Murderous Venetian intrigue begins immediately when an attempt is made to murder all of the weary travelers while they are having dinner on their first night back. Tycho has a premonition of the explosion that destroys the banquet hall in which they are dining, so he is able to get Giulietta, Leo, Lady Desdaio, and Lord Atilo to safety. Although Tycho is certain that Alonzo is responsible for the explosion, he can't prove it, so the Council of Ten rules that it was caused by outside terrorists.
The plot follows the complex intrigues of Alonzo and Alexa as both strive for full power over Venice. Also part of the mix are two suitors for the hand of Giulietta, who is now a widow—her husband, Leopold, having been killed in the Mamluk battle. The first suitor is Prince Nikolaos, nominated by John V Palaiologos (aka the Basilius, ruler of the Byzantine Empire). The second suitor is Prince Frederick, half-brother of Leopold and bastard son of Sigismund (aka Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany). Both the Basilius and Sigismund view this marriage as a way to add Venice to their growing empires.
Much of the story follows the ongoing relationship of Tycho and Giulietta as they proceed down their bumpy romantic road in an almost soap-opera-esque manner. Throughout most of the story, Giulietta behaves like a brat, shrilly denouncing Tycho for cowardice because he did not save Leopold, accusing him of dallying with Desdaio, and generally shouting and screaming at him for any painful element of her life. We are meant to understand that under all of Giulietta's rage is the fire of true love, but it's hard to discern even a spark of affection until nearly the end of the book.
The plot lines in this book are drawn more simply than in book 1 because this time it all comes down to Giulietta and her baby: Will everyone accept Leopold as Leo's father—even if it's in name only? Will Giulietta marry again, and if so, who will be her groom? Will she forgive Tycho and stop throwing her childish tantrums? Will Giulietta ever overcome the spell that keeps her from speaking the name of Leo's biological father? What will be Tycho's and Alexa's reactions if they learn the identity of that villain?
One story line with connections to the Tycho-Giulietta romance is a take-off on Shakespeare's Othello—complete with murderous Moor, deceitful ally, innocent wife, and incriminating handkerchief. The Iago character and the Desdemona character even have similar names: Iacopo and Desdaio. The horrific resolution of this side story plays out like a play within a play, with a twist to the ending that implicates Tycho.
The story is rife with references to spiders and poison, both real and metaphorical. For example, Prince Marco is portrayed as "an ungainly spider" shortly before he is poisoned with an adulterated plum. Marco uses spider imagery to communicate with his mother. Alexa uses her scrying bowl to watch Alonzo plot against Atilo and muses that "the poison flower was unfolding."
Once again, the author steeps his story in wonderful descriptions of Venice that reflect both its grimly disturbing street scenes and the malignancy of its upper class:
"The palace of the Millioni was the grandest in Europe. A confection of cream and pink supported on an elegant colonnade of marble, and positioned alongside the open expanse of lagoon, Ca' Ducale was built from bits of other buildings stolen from all over the Mediterranean. In that fact could be read the entire history of Duchess Alexa's adopted city." (p. 24)
"The narrow canal...was edged by a mean quayside that crumbled into green and stinking water. The bridge over it was rickety, made from wood that was rotting....The houses...were old, their thin red brick left unplastered. In a...covered passage...two children rutted against a wall. A better choice than the crowded tenement their families undoubtedly shared, where every ecstasy would be accompanied, like as not, by jeers." (p. 59)
"The owner of the barge stank even at a distance. He stank with the vigour of a man who spent six days each week up to his waist in excrement." (p. 152)
This is a strong mid-piece in a fascinating trilogy. Characterization remains strong (except for Giulietta's annoying brattiness), and the ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger. We know that Alonzo will not go off into the wilderness quietly, so book 3 will undoubtedly be a violent depiction of his vengeance against Alexa, Giulietta, and—especially—Tycho. If you are tired of the same old urban fantasy, try this series for its fresh take on the genre.
Set in an alternate Venice in the early 1400s, this series combines a compelling story line, fascinating characters, and an authentic sense of place. Although the cast of primary characters is quite large, if you can just hold on through the first third of the book, you will have met them all and you'll be in for a great pay-off. Since this is the first book in the trilogy, Grimwood must, of course, introduce us to all of the major players:
Marco IV, known popularly as Marco the Simpleton: is the direct descendant of Marco Polo and is now the titular Duke of Milan; usually off in a dream world, but has a few periods of lucidity that contribute heavily to the plot. In book 2, we learn the real cause of his odd behavior.
Lady Giulietta: cousin to Marco IV
Duchess Alexa: mother of Marco IV; possesses magical powers (she evokes thoughts of Lucrezia Borgia)Prince Alonzo: brother-in-law of Alexa and Regent of Venice
Atilo: a Moor who was an adviser to the late Marco III and is now head of the Assassini (Venice's secret assassins)
Lady Desdaio: daughter of a member of the Council of Ten, the inner council that rules Venice under the duke
Prince Leopold: the German emperor's bastard son and the secret leader of the Wolf Brothers (werewolves, who are called krieghunds in this world)
Dr. Crow: alchemist, and astrologer with magical powers who serves the duke
A'rial: the Duchess Alexa's child stregoi (witch)