3 out of 4 stars
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The book offered for review is listed as Venetian Born & Venetian Crucible. These are two separate books in a trilogy by Andy Burtis. My review will cover Venetian Crucible, the second of the series. This story follows two best friends, Giulio and Piero, in the Venetian Republic of the 1630s. The two boys, who met as schoolmates, came from very different backgrounds. Giulio’s family members were patricians, landowners, politicians, and merchants. Piero’s relatives were farmers, fishermen, tavern owners, and smugglers. Just as a crucible is used for melting metals and adding strength to them, the young Venetians face the tests of war and personal loss. They enter adulthood hardened and prepared for life’s challenges.
The book opens with Giulio and his fiancée, Evangelina, anticipating the Festival of the Fists. In 1600s Venice, rival clans staged mock hand-to-hand battles atop canal bridges. Piero, as a trained boxer, kicks off this year’s Festival by knocking his opponent into the filthy water below the bridge. His success is followed by a surge of mob participants, who continue the rivalry with a very real street fight. Scenes like this, taken from actual occurrences, transport us into the history of the Venetian Republic at the end of its era of political power.
Giulio and Piero are sent to war as Venetia is drawn into the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. Piero is dispatched aboard a transport ship that is carrying provisions to a besieged city in one of the inland provinces of the Venetian Republic. His heroic efforts on behalf of his ne’er-do-well uncle, Pasquale, land him in prison. Since Piero is both a witness to criminal activities and a rescuer of a nefarious murderer, he has no one to turn to and must flee his homeland. He signs on to an outbound ship with a disabled mercenary sea captain, who may actually be a foreign agent or a traitor. The two make their way to Holland, where Piero fulfills part of his dream to explore lands west of his home.
Giulio serves his enlistment as a scribe and coder for the land forces who confront the Imperalisti in the skirmish known as the War of the Mantuan Succession. His prospective brother-in-law accompanies him but does not survive the defeat that Venice suffers at the town of Valeggio. Disenchanted, Giulio returns to his home, only to find that bubonic plague has fragmented his family. His betrothed and her family are missing too. Confusion reigns everywhere. Even his Turkish friend, Ji al Muhmet, has left the city. Giulio takes a post as recorder for his family’s doctor, who ministers to the sick. Through his eyes, the reader experiences the horrors of the Great Plague that ravaged Venice in the seventeenth century.
Andy Burtis uses the contrast between the social stations of the two friends to give us a rounded picture of the end of the Renaissance in Venice. He weaves his two main plotlines around the increasing corruption and avarice that led to the fall of Venice as a world trade power. He is careful to show that none of the characters, regardless of wealth, was immune to the dangers of taking sides in the Republic. He develops dozens of minor characters in over four hundred pages of his book. Some are both hero and villain at the same time. The intricacies of the period’s politics and the lack of justice, as we know it, take a prominent place in his tale.
I particularly liked the character of Pasquale. He reminded me of Sonny in The Godfather, both reprehensible and lovable at once. My least favorite characters were the women in the book. I realize that females had very little power during the era, and I wish that the author had brought that across to the reader. His female roles all had a sadly melodramatic quality. His attempts to develop their characters, in my opinion, failed.
The author left quite a few errors in his text. Most of them were extra words a thorough proofing could have easily caught. The love scenes were erotic without being graphic. His background research was excellent. In reading the footnotes and the citations he gives, it is apparent that at least one of the principal characters was a real person. The author missed an opportunity, though. The foreign character of Ji could have been the audience for at least a summary description of the position Venice was in during the imperialistic conflicts of the time. It was unclear just who the enemy was.
In rating the book, I have to withhold one star for the lack of editing. In such a long book, the frequent errors were very tiring. In addition, a table of contents would have been very helpful in navigating the book’s fifty-six chapters. However, for the crafting of an authentic historical setting and the interesting personal experiences of the book’s characters, I have decided to place the story at the lower end of three out of four stars. I recommend it to those who love a good adventure story. Serious history lovers, particularly those who enjoy seventeenth-century Europe, would also find something to appreciate.
Venetian Born & Venetian Crucible
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