The Saffron Crocus

Written by Alison McMahan

The atmosphere of seventeenth-century Venice is richly and satisfyingly evoked in Alison McMahon’s Young Adult adventure story, in which fifteen-year-old Isabella is forbidden from exercising her musical abilities in Monteverdi’s celebrated choir because only boys and castrati may join its ranks. As she and her singing teacher, a saffron merchant and renowned courtesan, Margherita, are grappling with this limitation, Margherita is murdered, and suddenly the action of the plot kicks into high gear. Quickly the story reaches out to encompass a large cast of  actual figures from Venice’s history, as well as the book’s other fictional protagonist, Margherita’s handsome son Rafaele Copello, who finds himself on the run from shadowy killers and, at the book’s tense climax, on trial for murder.

McMahan handles the many aspects of her various plot lines with smooth skill, taking readers from the halls of the doge’s palace to the narrow streets of the Jewish ghetto and reserving some well-played surprises for the very end of the book. Young adult readers and fans of the genre will find quite a bit here to entertain them.