When choosing what to read my tastes generally oscillate between modern realistic fiction and historical fiction. Sometimes I am lucky enough to find the rare gem of a book that combines both historical and modern stories. The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips is one of those elusive novels.
The cover alone was enough to get me interested in the story. A picture of piazza san marco with only a couple pigeons? Sign me up! My interest was further piqued after reading the blurb that described how the protagonist was writing her dissertation on seventeenth century Venice. Obviously, I had to get it and read it straight away. What can I say, I always judge books on their covers and their blurbs. If I’m not drawn to the cover photo, well I can pretty safely say that I am not the audience for that book.
Of course, after having a completely ace cover and back cover, the story itself had quite a bit to live up to. Luckily, I can say that it quite met my expectations, though perhaps in a different manner than I originally expected.
I’m no stranger to this type of genre and have found that the plots generally fall into one of two categories: a) the present and past stories parallel each other, whatever happens to one protagonist will happen to the other in some form, or b) the protagonist of the present story uncovers the truth about past events and they are revealed to the reader through the historical sections. Since the book was following a person working to uncover the truth behind historical events, I assumed that the plots would fall into the latter category; however, to my delight they belonged to the former category.
Why to my delight? Because figuring out the parallels helped keep the story gripping and allowed Claire’s, the main modern character, realizations to feel more true. She never fully discovers the historical truth, allowing the novel to retain a sense of reality that is all so commonly lost when reading historical fiction.
Claire is working on her dissertation, which has taken over her life. Quickly, she learns of a conference being held in Venice in which a Cambridge professor will be giving a series of lectures on the same topic she is writing about, the spanish conspiracy. Unforunately, she doesn’t have adequate funds to get to Venice and ends up escorting the troublesome daughter of a friend’s friend in exchange for airfare.
That’s just the beginning. Throughout the twists and turns of the plot, Phillips manages to wonderfully weave in scenes of Venice that are breath taking with their realism. She captures not only the images one has of Venice, but the intense emotions of being in a deeply historical city.
What truly makes The Rossetti Letter sing, however, are the unique and captivating plots mixed with realistic characters that the reader truly grows to have a deep affection for. There’s no guessing what happened in this novel, the journey and surprises come genuinely; a refreshing change from so much fiction, both modern and historical, these days.
Ultimately, The Rossetti Letter is a complete win. Although I cannot say I was entranced during every page, the story kept me reading and wanting to know what will happen in a pleasing way. This book is a brilliant answer for the reader who enjoys both modern and historical plots and just cannot decide what they want to read next.
What is your favorite historical period to read about?