A Drop of Ink

Written by Megan Chance
Review by Vicki Kondelik

In 1874, two American sisters, Adelaide and Louisa Wentworth, together with Adelaide’s lover, the atheist poet Julian Estes, flee from scandal and arrive at the Villa Diodati near Geneva, the place that, 60 years earlier, inspired the writing of Frankenstein. The villa is now the home of the celebrity author Bayard Sonnier, Louisa’s lover. Adelaide hopes Bayard will help Julian advance in his career. She is convinced he is a genius, although unappreciated because of his unconventional lifestyle. Also at the villa is Giovanni Calina, Bayard’s secretary, who has ambitions to become an author. Soon Bayard and his guests hold a contest similar to the one that led to the writing of Frankenstein. Adelaide, no longer content to be Julian’s muse, decides to write a story of her own, and, as she and Giovanni turn to each other for help in their writing, they discover an attraction. Will Adelaide’s talent come to light, in spite of Julian’s efforts to suppress it? And will Giovanni always be in Bayard’s shadow, or will he emerge as a talent on his own?

Chance weaves a complex web of relationships among her characters, with all their secrets and jealousies. Adelaide and Giovanni narrate, in alternating chapters, and it is fascinating to see the characters from these two different points of view. The reader often sees more of the picture than any individual character does. Readers familiar with the lives of Lord Byron and the Shelleys will see how they inspired Chance’s characters. All the characters are complex, and even the two narrators have deep flaws. But Chance draws you so deeply into their lives that you come to care about them. Some turns in the story will take your breath away. This is an outstanding novel; one of the best I’ve read all year.