Tonio Treschi is a growing boy, the heir a small but noble Venetian family, and he has the singing voice of an angel. Guido Maffeo is a grown castrato who lost his singing voice in adolescence and now teaches young castrati and composes music. When Tonio is castrated at the order of a jealous and vengeful relative, he is forced into Guido's care and banished from Venice. Guido takes him to the school for castrati where he himself was taught, and endeavors to train Tonio's voice and make him into the best singer the world has ever seen. Old enough to know the world of men, but now removed from it forever, Tonio is caught between a desire to avenge the crime against him, mourning for what he has lost, and the first chance at happiness that he has ever know. Cry to Heaven is a well-plotted story and competently told, but lacks the sincerity to make it truly meaningful or memorable. The characters aren't nearly as compelling as some of the others in Rice's books, and the issues within the book are generally dealt with too bluntly and without much thought or detail. It is a fast, entertaining read and never becomes difficult or slow, but its lasting impact is somewhat limited. As a result, I recommend this book only hesitantly.
There isn't much more to say about Cry to Heaven. It is neither disappointing nor impressive, and neither good or bad. The plot and writing style are more than competent, keeping the book moving at a good pace, introducing plenty of problems and resolutions in the plot and working its way up to one major climax at the end of the book. My only compliant with the writing itself is the lack of emotional resolution at the end of the bookthe action builds up nicely, but the actual conclusion to the book seems a little empty and unexplored, especially in comparison to the character insight in the body of the text. Other than that detail, all of the necessary authorial techniques are there and the book is approachable, holds the reader's attention, and has a strong plot.
But outside of plot devices and action, there isn't much to this book, leaving the reader with nothing memorable or though-provoking. Rice may not be a particularly "deep" writer, but some of her other books prove that she is capable of creating and exploring complex moral situations, emotions, and ideas. The underlying ideas upon which Rice tries to and could have expanded upon are present, specifically the gender ambiguity and third-gender roles of the castrati, but Rice approaches them too bluntly to make the issues detailed or thoughtful. She rushes into sexual situations, cross-dressing, and androgyny too quickly and easily and her approach to the subject becomes repetitive: repeat sexual encounters, repeat manliness angst, and not much more. If explored in more depth, the contents and characters of this book would probably be much more meaningful; as it is, they are interesting while reading but have no long-term impact on the reader.
I recommend this book as a quick, enjoyable, attention-grabbing read, but I don't recommend it very strongly. It won't be a book that I come back to, and I would recommend some of Rice's other books before this one. The text isn't worth seeking out, but if you stumble upon it like I did (for fifty cents at a library sale), then by all means give it a go.