The Fiery Alphabet

By

We first meet Daniela Meso in 1764 as a 17-year-old prodigy, proficient in mathematics and fluent in Greek and Hebrew, among other languages. She lives in her father’s house in Rome, where she comes under the spell of a mystic charlatan calling himself Giuseppe Balsamo, a historical character also known as the Count di Castiglioro. After he persuades her that giving him her body will enable him to save her father’s life, they embark on a journey through Italy as traveling confidence tricksters and money changers. Balsamo suggests that Daniela may be descended from Jews. She has an affair with a Venetian man who seems to be Casanova. Later she becomes the supervisor of an orphanage before undertaking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she becomes a debunker of false relics. In Constantinople she visits the sultan’s harem and eventually becomes a wealthy eccentric who runs a refuge for former prostitutes.

The novel suffers from overwriting, especially in describing sex: “I kissed his eyelids and the palms of his hands and the wedge of that part that only gods and heroes display. He said ‘oh my love’ and ‘oh my love’ I said and the word was made flesh in our mouths and our hands.” Those whom the quoted passage does not repel might enjoy this novel; I didn’t. Not recommended.

Share this review

Now available in paperback (UK) or on Kindle

Jenny Barden's masterful novel about the lost colony of Roanoke.

Details

Online Exclusive

Publisher

Published

Century

Price
(US) $18.95

ISBN
(US) 9781624320040

Format
Paperback

Pages
308

Review

Appeared in

Reviewed by