by Megan Chance
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: August 1st, 2014
Format Read: Kindle E-Book
American artist Joseph Hannigan and his alluring sister, Sophie, have arrived in enchanting nineteenth-century Venice with a single-minded goal. The twins, who have fled scandal in New York, are determined to break into Venice’s expatriate set and find a wealthy patron to support Joseph’s work.
But the enigmatic Hannigans are not the only ones with a secret agenda. Joseph’s talent soon attracts the attention of the magnificent Odilé Leon, a celebrated courtesan and muse who has inspired many artists to greatness. But her inspiration comes with a devastatingly steep price.
As Joseph falls under the courtesan’s spell, Sophie joins forces with Nicholas Dane, the one man who knows Odilé’s dark secret, and her sworn enemy. When the seductive muse offers Joseph the path to eternal fame, the twins must decide who to believe—and just how much they are willing to sacrifice for fame
This is a book for a dark day…maybe a grey one, maybe one where you’re not entirely sure about the world beyond your bed. It’s a bittersweet story, to be sure, but a charming one, about art and beauty and souls and symmetry, set against the wonder of Venice.
There are several players in this game: first and foremost the Hannigan Twins, Joseph and Sophie, a painter and his storytelling sister newly come to Venice from New York. Then there is Nicholas Dane, a once-aspiring poet who now seeks revenge. And finally we have Odile Leon, a courtesan and muse and succubus, who has been inspiring and draining the greatest artists in the world for the past 200 years. As Joseph and Sophie come into their own, Nicholas and Odile fight for their twinned soul and the promise they hold.
This book was, quite honestly, captivating. What drew me in immediately was the setting…ostensibly Late Victorian/Edwardian, it has a beautifully timeless air to it. Venice, too, is a wonderful setting, gilded and dark by turns, but always fantastic. It is my deep, deep wish to visit someday, if only to see what Megan Chance has captured in her book. The community of artists is also an intriguing one. The cutthroat air, the emphasis on talent, the lust for fame, the double-sidedness of what Odile provides…all of it was strange, and yet felt true.
Beyond such details as the setting, there was not a character I did not love. Nicholas is the least complex, the easiest to read: he feels he has been deprived of his talent and relevance (although he admits he had little talent to begin with) and wants to destroy the demonic evil he sees in the succubus.
Joseph and Sophie are, as Nicholas points out, captivating and alluring and worrying by turns. They are beautiful people who nourish and assist each other, the perfect ideal of siblings. But at the same time, there is a disturbing past only somewhat hinted at. Also an undercurrent of sexuality between them that is a little strange for siblings. But overlooking this, I love how together they make beautiful art. They are nominally the main characters, although that’s disputable. For instance, there are only a few chapters presented from either of them–and mostly from Sophie’s point of view. Most of the book is about how Nicholas and Odile view them.
And Odile. She makes the book, despite being the baddie. The author could have made her a standard muahaha seductress type, working to tear the twins apart for her own gain. But at every single opportunity we are presented with her humanity, her sad past and her deep desire to be remembered. There is an eternal sadness to her, even as she drains artists and discards them. Her struggle is, in many ways, the struggle of the book. Without her, it would be a story about a good artist who makes good art, and thoroughly boring.
This book is, however, not quite YA, but instead more adult. There are several scenes dealing with sex. There is the aforementioned sensuality between the siblings, which is somewhat disconcerting. And there are references to abuse, child molestation, and rape. Nicholas is the only character who is not fighting his own internal demons (in Odiles case, it’s a bit more literal, but the point stands). So, for those who are interested, simply be warned.
It’s a bittersweet story, in a lot of ways. Besides the characters back stories, there’s no perfect ending. People don’t end up with the people they should. The demons aren’t vanquished. But there’s a success, of sorts, and art is made. It’s not a feel-good book–it’ll leave you feeling rather bittersweet yourself–but it’s the sort of book that will make you want to find your own muse.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.