This lengthy, complex and sometimes chilling book is not for the inexperienced or faint-hearted reader, but for those who are able and willing to persevere there is a mighty treat in store.
The story opens in Venice in 1739 with the murder of an innocent tourist in The Hotel Of What You Want, an establishment set up by Arabella Magoghe, one of four evil Sicilian sisters who fled to the city to escape armed conflict in their homeland and who have abandoned all compassion in the face of greed and a desire for revenge against the citizens of the city which refused to help them. Their hearts have become hardened to all but the pusuit of money and the bones of their victims are scrubbed and aged to be sold as holy relics, much prized by Venetians.
Orphaned Sorrowful Lily, cruelly raised in the convent run by another of the sisters,is schooled in the murder of the hotel’s guests by Ivo, who has his own tragic secret. Enter Darling Dearworthy, niece of one of Arabella’s victims:feisty,Irish, with a marvellously poetic vocabulary, eager to find out what has happened to her uncle. Introduce Casanova in his fifteenth year and build an alliance of these unusual young people, united in their desire to strip the Magoghe sisters of their power and return the relic of Saint Lucy’s body-stolen by the sisters- to her beloved Venice.
The fabric of the story is not yet fully woven, however. There is a strong thread of magic realism, with a talking statue of the Madonna, a fretful baby Jesus, mermaids who speak like wise but wonderfully entertaining pirates, murderous giant eels-and an overwhelming conviction that evil will be routed in the end. The narrative pace is brisk and the reader is taken on an unforgettable physical and emotional roller-coaster ride. This exceptional book repays readers a hundred-fold.