Source- Review copy (ARC)
Publication date- July 2012
Synopsis- In 1576, five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship slips unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man, more dead than alive, disembarks and staggers twoards the Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from the Turkish Sultan. Within days the city will be infected with bubonic plague – and the Turks will have their revenge.
For months the plague wreaks havoc on Venice. In despair, the Doge summons the architect Andrea Palladio and offers him a commission: the greatest church of his career, an offering to God so magnificent that Venice will be saved. Palladio’s own life is in danger too, and it will require all the skills of Dr Annibale Cason, the city’s finest plague doctor, to keep him alive. But what Dr Cason has not counted on is the other passenger who disembarked from the Turkish ship – a young and beautiful harem doctor whose skills will more than match his own.
Review- A well-researched historical fiction novel set in 1576, spanning across Turkey and Venice. Freya, a twenty-one year old harem doctor has worked for the Turkish Sultan most of her life, providing medical aid to his concubines. When her mistress (the Sultan’s mother) is poisoned and reveals on her death-bed that she is Feyra’s biological mother she sets her on a mission to speak to the Doge in Venice. When the Sultan’s men turn up on her door-step advising she is to wed the Sultan (her half-brother!) once her father sails his ship to Venice on a secret mission, Feyra plans her escape. Hiding in the cargo of her father’s ship, she meets a man who dying from the plague. She realises her father’s mission is to deposit the man in Venice and spread the plague, weakening the city before Turkey invade for the war.
When her father dies of illness, Feyra must find a way to survive in a city where she is an outcast. She must lose her headscarf and modest clothing to fit into the less conservative Venetian lifestyle. She becomes a housemaid to Palladio, an architect summoned by the Doge to build a church to save Venice from the plague. When someone exposes her existence to the Doge, Feyra flees with Palladio’s doctor, Annibale Cason who Feyra refers to as the Birdman because of the distinct mask he wears to protect himself from the plague. Annibale is the city’s best plague doctor and has set up a hospital on a Venetian island to quarantine the sick.
Feyra is a strong-willed and intelligent young woman and makes for a likeable heroine. Annibale is reserved and brusque and has always kept everyone at arm’s length. But Feyra manages to get under his skin and he learns to value her not just as a useful doctor in the Hospital but as a woman and an equal. Despite their differing religious, cultural and medical practices they form a deep friendship that begins to cross the threshold of intimacy. They must decide whether they will dishonour their faith for love.
The Venetian Contract has a slow start, but by the half-way mark I was completely engrossed. The author skilfully tells Feyra’s story and the city of Venice comes to life through her writing. The novel is told in third person from various viewpoints- mainly Feyra’s and Annibale’s but sometimes there were two POV’s in the one scene which made it difficult to relate to one character at a time. Regardless, I really enjoyed her writing style and the well-researched historical details coupled with a strong, likeable heroine. I particularly found interesting the ancient medical treatments really fascinating and their wild bird costumes!
I’d recommend this book to historical fiction fans who have a hankering for historical details and like to cheer on a female protagonist who successfully infiltrates a male-dominated career in an oppressed era.
Purchase book @