The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick
Now this is a proper novel about vampires – and they don’t even make an appearance properly until late in the book, however, they are mentioned in the blurb, so I’m hardly giving the game away. It’s also a proper book about Venice, set in the 18th century during the end of the winter carnevale – approaching the start of Lent, when Venice becomes a masked city of revellers.
Marko, a doctor’s son, comes to the city after receiving a strange letter from his father Alessandro, who had travelled there to attend an old friend Simono, a glassmaker, who was seriously ill. When he arrives, he finds his father has disappeared, Simono has gone mad and his daughter Sorrel is at the end of her tether, worried that her father will die and that their house is cursed. Strange things are happening in and around Venice involving a band of celebrants with a strange tattoo. They seem likely to come to a head during the festival when the new Doge takes his seat, and it seems that Simono is somehow involved in these events. It becomes a race against time for Sorrel and Marko who, as you may expect, begin to fall for each other, to solve the mystery, to find Alessandro and cure Simono.
Sedgwick’s gothic Venice is wonderfully realised; it’s one of my favourite literary settings. You can smell the stench, you can hear the water constantly lapping on the piles, and you can feel the damp and gathering dread in the fog. It’s also all the better for the vampire action coming from Eastern Europe folklore rather than any modern romantic interpretation, it’s subtle yet menacing and not pretty at all – the quote at the top from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice above seems to sum it up well.
Although this is, I later discovered, a sequel to a previous book, My Swordhand is Singing, this novel stands perfectly well on its own. In summary, this is a sophisticated novel for teens steeped in a sense of time and place, and also a cracking good adventure. I will definitely read more of Sedgwick’s novels. (9/10)