The first book in the Vampire Assassin series set in fantasy Venice.
Publication year: 2011
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Dan John Miller
Running Time: 12 hours, 41 minutes
The story starts with a young man chained in the dark without any knowledge of who he is and why he’s chained. Then, we’re thrust in the middle of Venice intrigue.
This Venice is a powerful city-state ruled by the descendants of Marco Polo. However, a half-wit Duke, Marco IV, sits on the throne currently, so the people around him have to do the actual ruling. Venice even has an official Regent, Marco’s uncle Alonzo la Millione, although Marco’s widowed mother Alexa has almost as much unofficial power.
Marco’s cousin, the 15 year old Giulietta is ordered into a political marriage against her will. In desperation, she runs away. However, Atilo Il Mauros is hot on her heels on the streets of Venice. He’s the head of the Assassini brotherhood and loyal only to the Duke. Atilo shadows Guilietta until dusk. Then he has to protect her from the powerful werewolves, called the krieghund, who are trying to kill Guilietta. Atilo manages to get her back home but not before most of his assassins are killed.
Later, Venice custom officers are inspecting a ship and find a strange boy chained there. The boy manages to escape. He doesn’t remember much but light hurts his eyes and water makes him sick. He encounters a young witch who allows him to drink her blood which revives him somewhat. Later, Atilo meets the boy, who is calling himself Tycho, and drafts him into services as an apprentice assassin.
Meanwhile, supposed foreign agents have kidnapped Lady Giuliette. The poor girl knows that she’s just a pawn and nobody would look for her, so she steals a very valuable item. Soon, all of Venice is in uproar about the kidnapping and very unpleasant things start to happen to foreign residents.
This is just the bare bones of the start of the complex plot with a large cast of characters, lots of scheming, and a couple of romances, too. I must admit that the audio book isn’t the best format for the book unless you are able to focus on listening all the time. I usually do something else while listening, so I wasn’t. Maybe that’s why there are a couple of plot point that were really mystifying to me.
Right at the start, Atilo is following Giuliette. At any point before sundown he could have just appeared and whisked her away back home. Instead, he waits for her to apparently change her mind and return on her own. Which she doesn’t do and isn’t likely to. So, Atilo just follows her until sundown and the werewolves come out and massacre his followers. The thing is that apparently Atilo knew that the werewolves were in town and that his followers didn’t have a chance against them. So, this makes Atilo pretty… stupid? Incompetent? Suicidal except with other people’s lives rather than his own? Unbalanced? I don’t know but it sure isn’t flattering. Also, this makes Giuliette seem very stupid and incompetent, too. So right at the start two POV characters are acting stupidly.
Next up is Atilo’s romantic choices. He’s supposedly in love with lady Desdaio who is not only young and beautiful but also a rich heiress. So, other men are trying to get her, too. However, Desdaio is in love with Atilo and agrees to be engaged with him. However, instead of marrying her as soon as he can, he… puts it off. He’s too busy with work, with prostitutes, and having affairs with married women. What? Then he mopes around when other men are interested in Desdaio. What, again? What was he waiting for? Desdaio to become frustrated and marrying someone else? Atilo is very ambitious, has good connections, and is a schemer to boot. He’s also a moor and lots of people view him unfavorably because of that. Surely, it would have been advantageous for him to marry a rich, beautiful, Christian heiress instead of dallying around. Seems weird to me.
Otherwise, the plot moves along quickly with short chapters and quick POV changes. Tycho’s past is revealed slowly as he starts to remember more about it. He’s not a typical vampire; he can move about during the day although the light hurts his eyes, and he can eat and drink normally. He’s perhaps the most interesting character. Giuliette perhaps grows most during the book. At the start, she’s a beaten down girl even though she comes from a powerful family. But her family has made it clear that her only value is in the marriage she will make; that she herself is worthless.
Unfortunately for me, all of the characters are quite gray; they’re selfish and scheming so it’s hard to root for any of them. They’re also horribly misogynistic which is, of course, consistent with the historical aspect but was tiresome to me after a while.
The book has a lot of details about living in 15th century Venice, both for the poor and the rich. Tycho and a couple of other POV characters move among the poor and a couple of street urchins play a significant role in the book. Even in the glittering La Serenissima, life is brutal and often short for the poor and even for rich women. I was particularly fascinated by the description of a prison where the prisoners were forced to work to keep themselves alive, so they didn’t have time to plot escape.
Oh, and the family of la Millione, the descendants of Marco Polo, are imaginary. As far as I can tell, Polo didn’t hold much political power in Venice. During the time of the book, Venice was ruled by competent, if not liked, Doge Michele Steno.
Miller is a good reader. He’s careful when pronouncing the Italian names and I liked his voice. The only thing I didn’t really care for were his voices for women which sounded absurdly high and breathless.