29 June 2009

Review: The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

In 1618, Spain was preparing to launch a surprise invasion of Venice. The plan was thwarted only because Alessandra Rossetti, a famed courtesan of the city, wrote a letter to the governing council exposing the plot. Afterward, the young woman disappears from history.

Claire Donovan has spent two years researching this event for her doctoral dissertation. Why would Alessandra risk her life and those of her clients to save her city? What happened to her after she wrote the famous "Rossetti letter"? Claire is hoping to answer these questions and thus start her academic career as the expert in the so-called Spanish Conspiracy. One big problem is that she can't afford to travel from her home on Cape Cod to Venice to study the historical records firsthand.

To make matters worse, Claire learns that a history professor from Cambridge, Andrea Kent, is planning to present a paper at a Venice conference on the very topic of the Spanish Conspiracy. If Claire's dissertation is scooped, her degree and career will be jeopardy. There is only one way she can get to Venice: by taking fourteen-year-old Gwen Fry along with her. Thirty-something Claire thinks, "How hard could it be to watch Gwen while attending the lectures and doing research?" It's obvious that Claire has not spent much time around teenagers.

Once in Venice, Claire attends "Andrea's" lecture and learns two important facts: Andrea is really Andrew, and Andrew thinks the Spanish Conspiracy is a hoax.

The Rossetti Letter is almost two novels in one. The historical aspects center around the fictional Alessandra Rossetti and her transformation from well-off merchant's daughter to orphan to high-class courtesan. Her story introduces us to 1617–1618 Venice, its foods, its sights and sounds, and its politics. The contemporary aspects focus on Claire Donovan as she races to save her academic future while finally learning to open herself up to others after her painful divorce.

The two faces of the novel work well. Although Alessandra's story could have stood on its own as historical fiction, it is interesting to see the difference between the "realities" of her life and what is available four hundred years later for Claire to study. Further, it is fun to follow Claire's discoveries; we groan when she skips over important information and are relieved when she gets things right.

The historical chapters are well conceived with a good balance of fact and fiction. The plot is nicely paced, and it is easy to get caught up in Alessandra's world. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to remember all the political players, but Phillips gives us a list of the characters, and a quick glance is all that's needed to clear any confusion.

Claire's story is a little less gripping, with maybe a few too many coincidences. The evolving relationship between Claire and Gwen is entertaining, and Claire's foibles while adapting to Venice provide a nice break. In the end, however, Claire is someone to root for: The trip to Venice not only helps Claire understand the Spanish Conspiracy and Alessandra's fate but also helps her find the way to self-discovery.

The novel ends with a author's note that tells us which characters and events were based on fact and which were conceived for the novel. Phillips also lists her major sources.

The Rossetti Letter is the first in the Claire Donovan novels. I already have the second book, The Devlin Diary, and can't wait to follow Claire as she conducts research into 1672 London.

The novel has it's own website, The Rossetti Letter, where you can learn more about the author and the book.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781416527381
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 51
Rating: B


Lucy 6/29/09, 9:39 AM  

What a wonderful review! I'm very interested in reading this- especially since I love anything that happened in Venice in that period- and right now I'm also reading (and researching) a lot about courtesans, so I'd enjoy this book I'm sure. Thanks:)

Lezlie 6/29/09, 9:43 AM  

I enjoyed this novel as well as The Devlin Diary, and I hope you like The Devlin Diary just as much when you get to it!


Julie P. 6/29/09, 9:47 AM  

I am dying to read this one! I just finished THE DEVLIN DIARY and thought it was so good.

S. Krishna 6/29/09, 9:55 AM  

I really enjoyed this one. Nice review!

Margot 6/29/09, 11:11 AM  

Wonderful review. A new to me series that I'd like to explore.

serendipity_viv 6/29/09, 12:36 PM  

Fabulous review. This is definitely the type of book that I like reading.

bermudaonion 6/29/09, 12:57 PM  

Your review makes me want to read this book and it's not my usual genre.

Kristen M. 6/29/09, 1:25 PM  

I was glad when Claire and Gwen started joining forces instead of butting heads!
I sometimes wonder why this book and The Devlin Diary weren't both just written as historical fictions. It seems that much more research was put into the past than the present!

The Tome Traveller 6/29/09, 1:36 PM  

What a great review! When I agreed to do the blog tour for Devlin Diary, I didn't realize that it was a sequel. I don't really like to read books in a series out of order, it bugs me. But in this case, I was already committed. I really enjoyed The Devlin Diary and am looking forward to reading RL, especially after reading your review!


Memory 6/29/09, 6:16 PM  

Ooh, I love books like this! Thanks for the great review.

Kari 6/29/09, 6:56 PM  

The history sounds particularly entertaining. I recently read John Berendt's The City of Falling Angels, which is about Venice as well. What a fascinating place!

Carrie K. 6/29/09, 11:18 PM  

I was tempted to add this to my to-read list simply based on the cover - but your review was the clincher. :)

Melody 6/30/09, 10:54 PM  

Great review! I'll have to look out for this one. Love the cover too!

Anonymous,  7/1/09, 4:08 PM  

I can't wait to get my hands on this one. I love anything Venetian!

Unknown 7/1/09, 5:32 PM  

Sounds very good - adding to my wish list. Your review makes it sound similar to the series by Lauren Willig - the first being The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Have you read her books yet? Are they a bit similar?

Literary Feline 7/2/09, 11:43 AM  

This sounds like an interesting novel. I have another of the author's books on my shelf to read and am looking forward to it. I'll have to look for this one too.

Suzanne Yester 7/4/09, 12:34 PM  

What a great review! The 2 stories weaving together in the book is what I really enjoy about the authors writing. She does it so well! Thanks for stopping by on my blog and letting me know you had reviewed this- I'm going to put a link in my post to this so everyone can read about the first book too!

Take care & Happy 4th of July!

Passages to the Past 7/9/09, 3:39 PM  

I am off to put both of them on the wishlist! Thank you for a fantastic review!

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