In Renaissance Venice, the daughters of nobility must marry - or live and die trapped behind convent walls. Impulsive and adventurous, Gemma Caloprini thanks her stars that she's destined for marriage...until an unwanted betrothal goads her to defy her father and risk her most dangerous secret: the Glass Doge, a sinister nobleman who lives behind the glass of her mirror.
Now Gemma faces a brutal dilemma. If the suitors competing for her youngest sister's hand discover her secret, she'll be locked in a convent. If the Inquisitors find out, she'll burn as a witch. And if she can't pay her debt to the Glass Doge, she'll lose her soul forever.
The City Beyond the Glass is a dark and spellbinding YA retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
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I'm not actually a fan of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
That's incredibly ironic, because I can honestly say that some of the best fairy tale retellings I've ever read have been based on this story, and The City Beyond the Glass is no exception.
On the surface, the source fairy tale seems light and frothy (because...dancing, I guess? And princesses?) but more than a cursory glance at the tale reveals that this isn't the case, and it certainly isn't for Rowtntree's story. At first, I was almost afraid that Gemma would be the traditional rebellious heroine of every YA novel. But what makes the difference here is how her actions are handled in the story's context. What also makes the difference is the "hero" character set to oppose her, who mirrors her just enough to reflect -and confront- her own sinfulness.
Also, the plotting and characterization are sharp and tight, making this novella seem neither rambling nor unfinished, and the setting -- Renaissance Venice-- is vibrant enough to become almost a character in and of itself.
Light and frothy The City Beyond the Glass is not. Dark, bitter, and satisfying would be a far more apt description.
*I received this book for free from the author in exchange for my honest review.*
The Twelve Dancing Princesses is another fairy tale I'm not that fond of which gets great retellings, this one by Rowntree being another example I enjoyed. Set in the Republic of Venice, it tells the story of the three Caloprini sisters, Gemma, Filippa, and Lucia (who stand in for the dozen princesses of the tale), whose rich father despairs of finding a husband for them, to take over and continue his merchant empire.
Rebellious Gemma isn't happy with the prospect of being married off to a man of her dad's choice, so one night she decides to sneak in secret to spy on her potential husband at a party. Problem is, she goes out alone and unchaperoned, an absolute no-no for good Venetian girls, and predictably gets in trouble when she's mistaken for a courtesan and dragged into a street swordfight between Duke Sforza's men and a rogue condottiero. That ruins her marital prospects, and her irate father promises the hand of his youngest to any man who can solve the mystery of his daughters' nocturnal escapades. The truth is, the Caloprini girls are going to a shadow Venice that exists beyond the Murano glass mirror and is ruled by a shadow Doge, a sinister personage that'll exact a hefty price for visiting his realm, a price the girls don't know until it's too late.
I can't say there were many surprises in this retelling, which is not to say that it was predictable. The eldest sister, Gemma, isn't always sympathetic, because she's difficult to say the least, but I'm guessing readers will like the youngest sister, Lucia, and also the rakish mercenary Gonzaga, who made things all spicier, in my opinion, as well as adding a bit of humour that works as a counterpoint to Gemma's too serious attitude.
As a side note, I'd like to suggest the author be careful when using phrases in languages not her own, because there's always the risk that one might misuse them. In this case, Italian is employed, and there's a glaring mistake that leapt out at me: the phrase Santa angeli is used just like that, and I get that it's an attempt to say holy angels, but it's incorrect because santa is singular feminine, and angeli is plural neutral, so it should be santi angeli (plural neutral). I hope it's corrected; fortunately it's minor and doesn't take away from the story itself.
Wow! What a unique, heart-pounding fairytale retelling. I’m still reeling from this story and don’t know if I’ll ever recover.
As a 40k novella, you may pick this up expecting a fluffy, quicky romance story well…HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Just make sure you have your seatbelt on. You’re gonna need it!
This is a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling which is one of my most faaaavorite fairytales. But not only that, this story involves magical MIRRORS. Which is also one of my favoritest things. Why I’m obsessed with magical mirrors in stories I DON’T KNOW. There’s just so much fun to be had with them! So when I discovered this was based off one of my favorite fairytales AND the plot was centered around a world behind a mirror, I WAS SOLD. And let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.
The City Beyond the Glass is such a unique take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses story! The way Suzannah Rowntree weaved so very many elements from the original fairytale while still making this her own utterly original tale was brilliant.
This is both historical fiction and fantasy—set during the Renaissance age in Venice (how cool is that???), but where a few myths and dark magic come into play.
Narrated in first person, we are told the story through Gemma’s point-of-view, a young woman who is imprisoned in her own home and seeks freedom for her and her sisters more than anything. But she soon learns “freedom” is not actually free, and her desperation and impulsive behavior brings a terrible price on her head, as well as her two sisters.
In good ol’ fashioned Twelve Dancing Princesses style, the story is based around the girls disappearing each night and wearing out their dancing slippers in the process. But where they go is a dangerous secret, and their short-tempered father has had enough of their secrets, causing him to put forth a reward to any man who can figure out where the girls vanish to.
Though this is the base of the story, that’s where the similarities to the original fairytale end. The depth, complexity, thrills, and chills of this plot blew me away!
There are three sisters instead of twelve in this story, which, honestly, was kinda nice. Trying to keep up with twelve sisters in the span of only 40k would be a biiiit overwhelming, I think. Having just three was perfect. The sisterly dynamics were really fun to read about. In fact, all the character dynamics really popped off the page. Every single character was so human and alive.
Gemma: As mentioned, Gemma is our protagonist, the eldest sister, and point-of-view character. Sadly I…wasn’t really wild about her. She kind of frustrated me to no end. It was hard being inside her head the whole time because she was kinda…rotten. She’s selfish, impulsive, rebellious, and fiery. And makes many, MANY mistakes. BUT—and this is a big but—I absolutely understand why she was the way she was. Because see, THE WHOLE PLOT probably wouldn’t have worked if she had had a different personality. So, honestly, I’m not sure I can say her rather irritating character is a negative or not. It was necessary. AND she had a very interesting character arc which I’m ALLLL for. Gimme ALL the character arcs. So yeah, she made me want to get a brick and knock some sense into her head for basically…the entire story. Buuuut her behavior moved the plot along, and she was so very, very human. Any one of us could have made the same mistakes she did. She was a brilliantly written character. I just…got really, really frustrated with her and it made it hard to be in her head the whole time.
Filippa and Lucia: Gemma wasn’t my favorite, but I LOVED her younger sisters. Filippa, the middle child, is the levelheaded one of the three, and keeps the other two a little reigned in, which is a good thing (they need it)! While Lucia is the picture of meekness and innocence. I wish Filippa had been in the story more. Her role wasn’t major, and thus we didn’t see her a whole lot, but I enjoyed it when she was there. Lucia plays a slightly larger part, and I was very happy about because she is SO precious. I adored that sweet girl! She was the breath of fresh air to Gemma’s hotheadedness.
Gonzaga: This man played a verrrrry intriguing role and just…wow. I really can’t say much because #SPOILERS but…yeah. He made the book so interesting!
The Glass Doge: The Glass Doge is the man behind the mirror (and he gave me serious Phantom of the Opera vibes which is a plus in my book!) whose intentions are a bit of a mystery. Is he frightening? Is he charismatic? Does he want the best for people or not? WHO CAN KNOW? He’s both chilling and alluring and added a whole ‘nother layer of epicness to the tale.
There were other characters as well, like the girls’ father (who I also wanted to throw a brick at) and some side characters who each had important parts to play. Every single one served an important purpose and, as I said, was so human. They were all different and real. This author has some serious talent when it comes to character creation!
THINGS I LOVED
- IT’S A TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES RETELLING. I mean…obviously that’s a huge plus.
- THE SETTING & RICH HISTORY. As I said, this is set in Renaissance Venice and aaaaahhhhhh!!! You couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous setting. I just soaked up all the glitz and glam of the Venice life. (Except it wasn’t really that glamorous for most…heh. BUT STILL.) And it was so full of history, without once bogging the reader down with historical facts. Each thing was woven perfectly into the story. You can tell this author knows her stuff! The setting felt like a character on its own. This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the story.
- INTENSE, DARK, & HIGH STAKES. Good gracious me alive. THIS PLOT. It is a thrill of a ride. I honest to goodness was tensed up almost the whole way through. This story did not coddle its characters or readers. It’s a nail-biter and heart-pounder. I honestly didn’t know what the outcome was gonna be. The stakes were so, so, so high. I was terrified for the characters. And I loved every second of it. Gimme all the thrills! The way this story pulls you along and makes you more and more nervous with every turn of the page was pure brilliance. No fluff here!
- PLOT TWISTS. Oooh, the plot twists. DAT ENDING DO. *collapses* Again, this plot is INTENSE. And also complex. Which is my faaaave. I was soaking up every bit of it.
- SNAPPY DIALOGUE. The dialogue was one of my favorite bits of this story. It was so sharp and punchy! Again, this author knows how to bring her characters to life, and that shows more than ever through the dialogue.
-THE MIRROR AND MAGIC. I…really shouldn’t say much because I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I adored how the mirror and magic of this world came into play. It was such a fascinating idea, and mixing it with historic Venice made it even more engrossing. Venice seems like a place where there really would be secret worlds and magic.
- THE POWERFUL THEMES. The beauty of this story is that it made me examine myself, without ever once preaching to me. The themes and messages were woven so deeply into the plot, they utterly captured me without me even realizing what had happened. Now that is what a story should do. I never felt preached to or like some Important Message was being shoved down my throat. No, this story tells its tale in such a deep and powerful and beautiful way, it will naturally root its morals and values inside you and stick with you far after you’ve made it to the end. Exactly what you want in a fairytale!
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE
- COULD HAVE BEEN LONGER. I think this is probably just a me thing, but I felt like the story was a little rushed. Now, it worked, because it strung the reader along for a wild ride without ever pausing for any boring parts. But it almost seemed too fast. A few pauses for breath wouldn’t have been a terrible thing. Eheh. There were some scenes that felt…condensed. Like there should have been more to them. We’re also dropped slap dab in the middle of the tale, which was all right, because it added a bit of a mystery as we learn the girls’ secret. At the same time though, I kiiinda wish the story started at the beginning of their adventures. I felt like I was missing out on something. Buuut, again, this is more a me thing. I’m partial to longer books and even love me some ginormous series, so I don’t think this will bother everyone. Most people will probably enjoy the quick pace.
- GEMMA WAS HARD TO DEAL WITH. I pretty much already covered this, but I wanted to put it here because, honestly, if I had liked the protagonist more, this may have ranked as one of my favorite reads. But, as it was, being inside the head of someone who infuriated me on every page docked a star for me. Which I feel bad about because, again, her personality was necessary and so brilliantly written and served the powerful message of the story and made it all the more meaningful. I don’t think she should or could have been written any differently. She just…wasn’t very likable.
Those are really the only negative things I have to say about this story. And they’re simply personal opinions, nothing against the book in any form or fashion. THIS WAS JUST SUCH A GOOD STORY, GUYS.
Reputation is the most important thing for the people of Venice in those days, and it plays a key factor in the story. The girls are accused of having their, erm, innocence soiled and reputations ruined. And there are a few other scenes implying some men’s sensual desires and the mention of a harlot or two. It is all very delicately handled, but do be aware it’s there.
Also, I’ll repeat, this is a dark and intense book! There’s not really any gore (that I can remember…?), but whew! You’re going to be biting your nails to stubs with this one.
Otherwise, this was a very clean book. No language or anything of that nature. And, like I said, beautiful messages woven through it. But because of the darkness and the subject matter I mentioned above, I’d probably recommend it to ages 15 or 16+?
For a novella, this packs in a LOT of feels. Sometimes I felt like I was holding my breath while reading it.
If you’re looking for a lighthearted, lovey-dovey fairytale retelling, this one isn’t for you. But if you want a deep, dark, intense story with characters who leap off the pages, a historically rich and ritzy setting, a shiver-worthy antagonist, a complex plot that keeps you reeling, and a powerful message which will stay with you far after you’ve closed the book, GO BUY THE CITY BEYOND THE GLASS.
NOTE: I received a free ebook copy from the author in exchange for a honest review.
"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales, both in its original form and in the forms that authors like Jessica Day George, Heather Dixon, and Lea Doué have given it. So, when I saw that Suzannah Rowntree had written a version set in Renaissance Italy, I was super excited to read it and see what her take on the book would be. Now, having read it, I can't say that it's my favorite retelling of the story— but it's still very good.
Two major themes seem to show up in almost all "Twelve Dancing Princesses" retellings: the desire for freedom and the love of family, especially of sisters. Rowntree carries on this tradition, and the theme of freedom is particularly important to the message of The City Beyond the Glass. Everyone in this novel is trapped somehow: by society, by debt, by the Glass Doge, and their attempts to escape drive the story forward. Yet through all their efforts, an inescapable truth becomes clear: that no one can achieve freedom by his or her own strength, only through another's sacrifice. This truth forms the backbone of the subtle allegory pervading this book (one of Rowntree's trademarks, if I recall correctly).
Though not as significant as the desire for freedom, love of family also plays an important role in the story and particularly in Gemma's character. Many of Gemma's decisions are driven by her love for and desire to protect her sisters . . . but an admirable cause doesn't equal an admirable character. As one character points out, Gemma's love easily turns to a desire for control over her sisters. More importantly, her attempts to protect her sisters often lead to actions that are borderline villainous. As a result, I found Gemma hard to get attached to, though I did eventually come to appreciate her.
Something to much the same effect can be said of Gonzaga, whose role I guessed the first time he appeared onstage. He's not particularly noble; in fact, he's driven by selfish motives for most of the novel. However, he's essentially a more realistic take on one of my favorite character types, which made him a bit easier to like than Gemma.
As for the Glass Doge . . . well, he also fit within the tradition of Twelve Dancing Princesses villains, but he's definitely not the creepiest of their ranks. (That award still goes to Keeper from Entwined) He's a decent villain, and what he can do is fairly unsettling, but in and of himself, he doesn't have the style I hoped for.
One thing I very much liked was Rowntree's attention to historical detail. I think this is another trademark of hers, but it's definitely still worth noting. I could tell that she's put a lot of effort into researching Renaissance Venice and making sure all the little details were correct, and as a result, I enjoyed the book a lot more than some other historical fantasies I could name.
Overall, The City Beyond the Glass isn't my favorite take on The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but it's still a dark and lovely retelling that will appeal to lovers of fantasy, fairy tale retellings, and even historical fiction. Christians will appreciate the subtle allegory of the author's message, but I think even non-Christians would enjoy the book as a whole.
Another amazing fairy-tale retelling in a vivid historical setting, filled with memorable characters, high action, and clever inclusion of the original tale's key plot points. The author did whittle the number of sisters down to three, which makes sense, particularly for a novella, and I appreciated not having to keep track of twelve girls!
Emma is a flawed oldest sister trapped in a home and society that offers her very little in the way of life choices. She has fallen into a diabolical trap laid within her own home and struggles to find a way out--making many selfish, dishonest, and eventually useless choices along the way.
Add in the Glass Doge, a creepy entity offering entertainment to the trapped people of Venice; Maria, a helpless slave; Cosimo, a clever antihero with selfish motives of his own; and two hapless would-be suitors--and you've got a fascinating story of power-struggles, machinations, lies, and one unselfish character . . . But I won't spoil the fun. If you enjoy historical fantasy and a quick yet rich reading experience, be sure to pick up this story!
It's really a crime that Susannah Rowntree is not a more popular author. Like most of her books, The City Beyond the Glass is short and fun, but not shallow. Her heroines are neither chick-lit nitwits nor radical leftist feminists. It's clear she has done her historical homework; her setting in Renaissance Venice is believable and enchanting.
The City Beyond The Glass by Suzannah Rowntree was one of my anticipated reads for 2018. After hearing about it being a dark retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princess set during Renaissance Venice, I was immediately expectant! Not to mention how gorgeous and velvety the book cover is.
The concept and plot for Beyond The Glass was pulled off really well, so if you’re looking for a quick read, then I’m sure you will enjoy this retelling immensely! However, for me, the book felt a bit too short, length-wise; perhaps it’s for this reason the historical richness I expected was lacking. It was a bit too fast paced, in my opinion, for what it wanted to deliver. I think it might have done better as a novel rather than a novella, but that’s just my opinion.
I’m a newbie to the Renaissance era in Italy and while the book did portray some of the culture in passing, it didn’t feel enough for me, personally. Then again, the setting was quite limited to the Caloprini household and the Glass Doge’s world.
So, The Glass Doge is meant to be the antagonist in this novella. I was really interested in his character! There was a great potential to this particular villain, however, again it fell short for me. I think this partly in reason because we are never truly introduced to his character. All we know is that his power is limited to The City and he requires lives for it to thrive. I always expect to know my villains’ motives but with this it was quite vague…?
Besides those two points, I really enjoyed reading The City Beyond The Glass. For an amateur historian, Suzannah Rowntree’s research is extensive and she really incorporates them into her story. In this novella, we are shown the merciless treatment towards women, the life of the Murano glassmakers, and the slavery in Venice. Reading Rowntree’s books makes for a fun and educational read! For a novella, she does create a layered and rich background which showcases her writing ability. While this novella wasn’t impactful as it could have been , I did take back a good moral from Beyond The Glass:
"The best freedom I’ve found in a life much longer and more active than yours, is the kind that comes when people love you so much that they’ll lay themselves down to give you what you want."
Thank you to the author for providing me an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. Follow me at Camillea Reads for more bookish adventures
What I liked most about this story: the characters feel real and so does the tale. The three sisters are trapped by the Glass Doge, forced to visit his mirror world regularly or risk his wrath. Everything is shown through Gemma's point of view, which is both a stubborn and often flawed one, as she struggles to protect her sisters--and herself--from all the dangers facing them. It's a darker retelling than most The Twelve Dancing Princesses retellings I've read, but I greatly enjoyed it. The setting is a great backdrop to the story--I want to visit Venice even more now! Though I'll be avoiding mirrors while I'm there.
I found it absorbing, wonderfully paced, and very thought-provoking. Nothing disappointed-- the setup, the many reveals, the moral compromise and repentance arcs... I think it will be memorable.
Rarely have I found characters sketched so compellingly in such a short story as are Gemma, Lucia, and the Doge. As rarely have I found a short story so worth re-reading, the second read yielding richer depths. It's a story worth chewing slowly, but too engrossing to do it.
Exciting, layered, superbly researched historical fantasy. As always with Rowntree, there are some profound themes woven in, but they are woven in so expertly, it's like looking at an arresting and brilliant tapestry - you aren't tracing the warp and weft, but rather you are gripped by the dynamic picture the threads are coming together to create.
I first became aware of the tragedy of Venetian upper-class monachisation (trapping young women in convents against their ill) from Donna Jo Napoli's YA novel "Daughter of Venice". I appreciated exploring this world further through Rowntree's impeccable research and her ethically strong but never simplistic take on the situation.
For me, this novella couldn't top her last one, Ten Thousand Thorns, which really made my spirit soar and introduced me to a completely different world. (Perhaps "City" felt a bit more YA than "Thorns".)
Highly recommended for those who enjoy gripping, sumptuous (and clean) historical fantasy.
In this tightly-paced fantasy novella inspired by the merciless social rules of upper-class Renaissance Venice (where forced consignment to a convent was the fate of over half the female population), a strong-willed young woman takes a significant risk in hopes of controlling her own fate. Her action triggers a series of events that send her world spinning out of control. As she struggles to protect those she loves, she is forced into an understanding of the sacrifice that lies at the heart of true freedom.
I loved Ms. Rowntree’s use of the traditional story of the twelve dancing princesses (as many of my friends know, I am a sucker for any story involving a rendition of the fey folk--even if they go by Venetian titles). The relationship between the heroine and her sisters is perhaps one of the best things Miss Rowntree has written yet. It is flawed, moving, believable, and conveyed without a single wasted word. I also appreciated her choice to make the heroine’s “strong will” a fatal flaw instead of a cliche. In fact, I must applaud the author for managing to write a truly flawed character without losing an iota of the reader’s sympathy. A heroine like this makes themes of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and forgiveness quite powerful.
For me, the concluding scene wasn’t quite as strong as the rest of the story. I think this was because the novella’s length did not allow the author to fully develop the tense relationship between our heroine and the mercenary soldier who attempts to outwit her. I couldn’t “feel the emotional truth�� of their final conversation and in fact felt as if I had to guess a bit about their feelings and motivations. Yet pacing was otherwise one of the strengths of the book, and overall the conclusion of the story was highly satisfying. I recommend this one!
Suzannah Rowntree has an incredible knack for taking a story you know and making it into something new and exciting while still leaving the story’s essence intact. The plot is tight and keeps you on the edge of your seat (I may or may not have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning just to finish this book). Something I really appreciate about Rowntree’s novellas is the depth of character she manages to fit into one hundred-something pages. In many novellas I struggle to connect with the main characters, but not so with The City Beyond the Glass. Gemma makes a lot of bad decisions, but they’re so understandable, it leads the reader to ask, “Would have I done the same?” This book is thought-provoking in a way that by no means detracts from the plot. It’s just the way I like it. One more thing: the setting is just amazing. Renaissance Venice comes alive, and it’s really quite breathtaking. An incredibly satisfying read.
Twelve Dancing Princesses meets Phantom of the Opera equals 'stayed up too late to finish the story'. The story had a good flow that kept pulling me in, but I really liked that even while you totally understand why Gemma makes the terrible choices she does, the story never quite lets you think it's for the best.
There are a few passing references to prostitutes, and other, heavily veiled references, to sexual situations, including non-consensual. I found some creepiness in the general situation and hints at the identity of one of the characters (but then, I have a low tolerance for creepiness, so that's probably mostly a concern for very young children). And, of course, there's the lying, tensions between parent and (mostly grown) children, and the main character's willingness to endanger and (indirectly) harm others to get what she wants (though this is clearly shown as bad). I think some pre-teens could enjoy this one, if they already like stories with this kind of dark tone.
This intriguing tale translates the story of the dancing princesses to Renaissance Venice and begins with the predicament of daughters facing life in a convent because of the rules surrounding marriage and inheritance. Magical elements are woven with a strong sense of time and place and two strong protagonists create sparks as they spar with one another. The themes of freedom and self sacrifice are explored along the route to a satisfying resolution.
I loved the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses as a child and this retelling was a joy to read. I read it in two sittings, totally absorbed in the dilemma Gemma found herself in, and not really sure until just beforehand how and whether she would escape. Fantastic.
Solid. I enjoyed the setting and learning a bit about the workings of medieval Venice while I was being entertained. I also thought the story was a very clever allegory for the problem of evil, what happens when we try to get out of it on our own, and the real, only way to be free of it.
I thought this was an excellent retelling. I loved the rich setting, the characters, and the plot. Of course, I wish it was longer, but I thought for its length it was extremely well-paced. I will leave you with this warning: once you start this book, you’ll not be able to put it down. Give yourself some time after you finish it to recover and think over what you’ve just read.
Overall this book reminded me of a 92% caoco bar. Dark, bittersweet, and rich.
The very end left me confused and uncertain what was happening. But everything else was wonderfully balanced. The climax was... oh. Perfection. I think I cried. I wanted to hug everyone. Except the Doge. I wanted to punch him repeatedly.
I'm not sure when I've been as formlessly angry with a book character as I was with the Doge. I couldn't find anything to grasp to be angry at! His whole character is like smoked glass and murky water. All I could find was shadow and hurt, and that made it hard to know what I was angry with. It worked perfectly for the character, though.
I think it's usually a little bit difficult to root for the sisters in Twelve Dancing Princesses re-tellings. After all, their actions aren't exactly lovable. Though she never had my full support, I understood the horrible position in which the main character, Gemma, found herself. The story was so well-written that I kept reading, not really wanting her to fail, not really wanting her to succeed. The ending was just right and very satisfying.
The world-building in this book was exceptional. It was easy to slip into the Renaissance Venetian atmosphere. The only thing I felt could have been improved was that I didn't feel that I got to know Gemma's two sisters well enough, especially the youngest. Small detail.
Information about the society and its rules came at a good pace. I never felt lost but there weren't any huge chunks of info that interfered with the story. It was obvious that a lot of research went into this book. Even the cover fits the story perfectly. I really enjoyed the story.
1.5 Stars Really disappointed with this one. It sounded so interesting and I loved the book cover, but the story just didn't deliver.
I like the fairytale Twelve Dancing Princesses, and this book's Italian setting, so I was hoping for the best, unfortunately it didn't work out. I think it's mainly because of the characters involved. They just aren't likeable, to me. In fact, I even started to really dislike some of them. The main character, Gemma, especially. But I think the author did this on purpose, like she wanted to show that Gemma isn't some perfect mc. Which would have been fine for me, if there were other characters that I liked instead, but I didn't have that either. It's hard for me to like a book when there isn't even one character that I like or am rooting for.
I also didn't like the ending and how it was all resolved. It gave me very religious vibes, and I just wasn't feeling it.
An interesting historical fiction that delves into the idea of self sacrifice. Makes you wonder what it means to be free and what cost freedom comes at. Gemma and her sisters are bound for the nunnery if their father can't find someone willing to wed one of them. Gemma doesn't want to be in a loveless marriage and wants to make her own decisions but being a woman, even one of wealth doesn't allow her to choose. She's a pawn in her father's chess game to continue his family's lineage and secure his wealth. Gemma, feeling trapped finds freedom through a portal in a mirror but life on the other side of the glass isn't what it's cracked up to be. Infact, the deal she makes in the name of freedom is more like a deal with the devil and she must find souls to pay her debts.
I love the Venetian references and the history this story provides. Brought back find memories of my trips to Venice.
THE GOOD CRACK. Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite tales, but something about it is lacking - and then this comes in and fills up every last gap with something new, complex, twisted, and beautiful.
I think fairytales often underestimate their girls, and Gemma is an utterly fantastic antidote to the trend - she's strong, but lost in her own ideals to the point that she nearly loses herself, in multiple ways. Similar to Gemma from A Great and Terrible Beauty, honestly. But with more of a sense of humor.
Venice is a gorgeous setting, and Rowntree is very thorough in her details. Really nailed it.
This book kept me up way past my bedtime. And I would like to congratulate Suzannah for creating a situation in which all the heroine's actions made things progressively worse - but without any better choices being obvious. Truly a difficult thing to accomplish and rare in a market saturated with cheap storytelling. There's nothing cheap about this story. It's beautifully told, meticulous in historical detail without being heavy, and full of complex characters that are neither angels nor villains. This is the sort of story you see yourself in, and squirm.
A well-written and intriguing glimpse into a portion of world history with which I am not personally familiar. After reading this, I may have to look into it. Like all the other work I'm read from Rowntree, this story was easy to fall into and made me think. Her characters were not flawless and facing the discomfort of this was a revelation for some of my own issues and a dash of hope that they don't need to be permanent. All in all, an enjoyable read. I'll be looking into her other books.
This is one of my favorite Rowntree retellings so far! I think this is because I'm a Rosamund Hodge fan (Crimson Bound is my favorite), and this story definitely had what I'd call a Hodge vibe: Darkness, guilt, denial, suffering, and the stakes are very real... Yet, ultimately, there is some hope of redemption - for some. Loved it.