Book Reviews by Eric Boss: "this is a compelling, enlightening read with characters exhibiting both strength and weakness in physical and moral terms"
Date: Apr 28 2015
Venice in the twelfth century was not Venice as we think of it today. A loosely-connected assortment of islands and reclaimed ground with no cohesion as a single city. There was a Doge, to be sure, but no real municipal government, police force or communications systems. Well, no surprise. The ambience of the place is well evoked in this historical mystery, although to call it that unnecessarily assigns it a limited scope, which is not merited by the book itself.
Our protagonist, a cloistered copyist monk who’s losing his eyesight is injected into this steaming soup of inspiration, creativity, innovation, poverty, slavery and squalor in a quest to discover a cure for his failing vision. A fellow in his monastery who travels to acquire manuscripts for secretion in the library has heard of an “eye stone” that can cure his ailment. This furnishes a starting point for the novel.
Shortly after arriving in Venetia, Edgardo, our hero learns of a grisly murder involving the gouging out of eyes and the replacement of them with devilishly red glass ones. This, not surprisingly, excites the citizenry and prepares the way for further vision/sight/eye themes to come. The murders neither cease nor become any more clear, there being no one to truly investigate them.
Most of us know about Murano glass, the wondrous Venetian art form that is famous worldwide. Here, the craft is in its infancy, chemistry and physics not being generally applied by those who create the colorful phials, beakers, platters and decorations that have brought their city so much fame. In fact, at this time the secret of producing clear, flawless glass is unknown and thought to be unattainable. The knowledge is more alchemical than chemical here. With Edgardo’s arrival seeking what it is he desires, however, evidence emerges that such knowledge is available. It comes from the Arabs, again. Yikes, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, what don’t those guys do better than their contemporaries in Europe? The translation and transcription of the manuscript containing the secret to the “eye stones” is being held close to the vest by the church who believes that such knowledge, and much else, is best kept from the people lest they begin to have thoughts of their own.
Okay, enough about the plot – you can read the book and don’t need me to tell you about it. What I can tell you is that this is a compelling, enlightening read with characters exhibiting both strength and weakness in physical and moral terms, each one appealing in a distinct way and a great twist at the end. If you love Italy, Venice, history, mystery, a good story…you have them all right here.