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Feb 23, 2010

HF Bloggers Round Table Book Review: The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin

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The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Kensington; Original edition (February 23, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0758226921
Review copy provided by the publisher
The Burton Review Rating:3 stars

"At the dawn of the 17th Century, the glassmakers of Murano are revered as master artisans, enjoying privileges far beyond their station, but they are forced to live in virtual imprisonment, contained by the greedy Venetian government who fears other countries will learn the intricacies of the craft…and reap the rewards.
Sophia Fiolario, the comely daughter of a glass making maestro, has no desire for marriage, finding her serenity in the love of her family and the beauty of the glass. She learns of its secrets at her father’s side, where a woman is forbidden to be. The life Sophia loves is threatened by the poor health of her father and the determined attentions of a nobleman who could and would never love her but seeks to possess her wealth and the privilege it affords. Thrust into the opulent world of the Venetian court, Sophia becomes embroiled in the scheming machinations of the courtiers’ lives. The beauty of Venice, the magnificence of the Doge’s Palace, are rivaled only by the intrigue and danger that festers behind their splendid facades. As she searches for an escape, she finds the arms of another, a man whose own desperate situation is yet another obstacle in their path. Amidst political and religious intrigue, the scientific furor ignited by Galileo, and even murder, Sophia must do anything to protect herself, her family…and the secret of the glass."

Donna Russo Morin tackles seventeenth century Venice in her newest novel, The Secret of the Glass. She writes of many underlying themes while she tells the story of Sophia, a girl who is doomed to marry a nobleman against her wishes. She is the eldest child of a glassmaking family, and as such, she is the only daughter that is allowed to marry, bringing with her the inheritance of the lucrative glass factory that has been in heritage for years. The remaining daughters will be forced to enter a convent once Sophia's sickly father dies. The story centers around this possibility, and the fact that Sophia wants nothing to do with her betrothed, Pasquale. Worse yet, her father who suffers from dementia has alluded to the fact that Pasquale's family has something damning to hide, but Sophia cannot approach her father with further questions. She instead decides to follow her betrothed to see if she can find out something about him, as he is not very talkative when they are together.

The Secret of The Glass carries with it the intrigue of the glassmaking process, and gives details about it as Sophia herself creates the pieces. That is a subject that would be damaging to the family if anyone found out the fact that it has been Sophia making the glass for so long, since it is against the law for women to do so. When Sophia is presented with the possibility of losing the ability to make the glass due to her betrothal, she decides to try and devise a way out. Along the way, she meets the dashing fellow, Teodoro, someone who is not allowed to marry, and they are instantly attracted to each other.
MIEL, Jan (b. 1599, Beveren-Was, d. 1663, Torino)
Carnival Time in Rome: 1653
Beginning with the tradition of carnival time, the author slowly meanders her way through this story, presenting details of Venice that are intended to bring Venice to life. Although I am normally very appreciative of historical detail, I was turned off by the many Italian words that were inserted. I had no inkling of what many of these words meant, and that really distracted my attention span, which in turn failed to pull me into the story. I would assume that those readers who love Venice and its allure may truly be entertained by the endless snippets of detail that the novel imparts. For this reader though, I felt the reading was sluggish for me, and that it was hard to become emotionally attached to Sophia or any of her supporting characters. Her characters were interesting enough, and I was surprised by one character's actions at the end of the novel, so much so that it was too out of character. With a story that focused mainly on the political atmosphere at the time, which was the most intriguing, it seemed that more things were happening around Sophia but not directly to her, which makes the events and plot seem a bit more simple while describing the book. I am particularly interested to see how others will review this book, especially by those who really adore Italy. Perhaps this one was too far out of my comfort zone of England-related reads for me to appreciate at this time.

That being said, I was particulary intrigued by the scenes that included Galileo, as it is told in the novel Sophia made the lenses for his first telescope, which was the central instrument for the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. This in turn affected the political, social and religious controversy of the times, which was one of the themes incorporated into this novel. Those who believed in theories of the astronomer Copernicus were branded as heretics, and those who supported Galileo were therefore tottering on that same edge of heresy. Another interesting theme was the Pope versus the doge, with an important case of clerics which occurred in 1605 and who should have the authority to govern disputes. I was also touched by one theme of the high dowry and forced marriage situations at that time. I will have another post coming up this week that explores this, and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Donna Russo Morin's previous novel, The Courtier's Secret, came out in February of 2009 averaging 4 stars on Amazon reviews, and coming March 2011 is To Serve A King.

As part of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table Tour, we offer you some more Venetian inspired treats, from more reviews to giveaways to Glass Pendants!

Review at
Review at The Maiden's Court
Creative posts at All Things Royal, Historically Obsessed, and Enchanted by Josephine.
Interview Questions with Author at HFBRT
More to be posted during the week, visit the main site for a complete calendar of events.
Posted now is the new Murano Glass Pendant Giveaway!
Come back in a few days to win my ARC of The Secret of The Glass, when I post my creative post.
Bookmark and Book Giveaway!