The first book in Fiona Paul’s Renaissance Venice trilogy, centering on wealthy 15-year-old Cassandra Caravello, finds this privileged young miss lonely, bored, and desperate for a more exciting life. Cassandra leads a protected existence with her Aunt Agnese on San Domenico, an island just a gondola ride away from 16th-century Venice’s glitz and glamour. But late one night, spotting a candle flickering in the church graveyard that flanks her aunt’s crumbling villa, spirited Cassandra goes where others would fear to tread and finds plenty of excitement awaiting her.
A story aimed at girls 14 and up, Venom contains all the familiar bells and whistles: two boys pursuing Cassandra’s heart (one of them “bad,” the other one “good”), risky forays into dangerous places (her parents are dead, her aunt elderly, hence she is free to roam), beautiful clothes, and a rich setting. Also, for good measure, vampires are mentioned. There are dollops of heavy breathing and sex unfulfilled in this well-written, colorful story. The narrative, while sometimes seemingly aimed at barely adolescent girls, also presents strong language and a jarring, graphic glimpse of a Venetian whore servicing her client. However, older teen readers will enjoy this book and can look forward to the second installment, Belladonna, which will be available later this year.