YAB Review: “Venom” By Fiona Paul

Today's post comes from Emily Smucker, a Youth Advisory Board member who recently read the YA novel "Venom" by Fiona Paul. The story is set in Renaissance Venice, where Cassandra, an elite young lady, stumbles upon a murdered woman and becomes involved in exploring the dangerous and dark secrets around her. The story is gripping as Emily explains, but beyond the mystery, it's also about personal discovery and growth. Plus, the setting of Venice is captivating as Emily highlights in her review below. 

YAB Review: “Venom” By Fiona Paul

VenomFirst impressions

“Venom” begins with a young woman named Cassandra, Cass for short, at the funeral of Livi, one of her best friends. Ducking outside for a breath of fresh air, she runs into a handsome and somewhat bawdy artist named Falco. As a proper young woman with a proper fiancé, she is embarrassed by his flirtation, but also intrigued.

The story takes place in Renaissance Venice, and Cassandra is on the fringes of the elite Venetian aristocracy. She lives with her aging aunt on the graveyard island of San Domenico. Cass is pretty unsatisfied with her isolated location, strict aunt, and boring life. She constantly writes in her journal, and also likes to wander around in the graveyard at night.

On the night of Livi’s funeral, Cass went out to the graveyard, and, out of morbid curiosity, went into her friend’s crypt and opened up the casket. There she saw that Livi’s body was gone, and replacing it was the body of a girl with choke marks around her neck, and a bloody “X” carved over her heart.

Horrified, Cass left the crypt, and fled the graveyard, running right into the arms of Falco, the handsome artist. She told him what she had seen, and he checked it out for himself, seeming nearly as horrified as she was. However, Falco convinced her not to get the town guard involved, instead suggesting that the two of them go investigating on their own.

Sum it up

“Venom” is part romance and part mystery, but mostly it is a book about self-discovery. As Cass travels the dark canals with Falco in the night, they begin to unravel mysteries linked to some of the most influential people in Venice. At the same time, they begin to fall in love with each other.

This poses a few problems. First, Cass is already engaged to a perfectly nice young man named Luca, who is away at university for most of the book. Second, Falco and Cass come from two completely different worlds. He would never be able to provide her with the sort of comfort and stability she is used to. And finally, hints are given that Falco may know more about the mystery than he lets on.

Most importantly, Cass discovers a lot about life and people throughout this book. Her adventures with Falco take her all over the city, far from the safe places she’s been used to. She begins to see the good side of the people she used to ignore, as well as the seedy underbelly of the aristocrats. She comes across many things that both horrify and fascinate her, and by the end of the book, she has an infinitely better understanding of the world and herself than she did at the beginning.

When were you hooked?

What hooked me, before I even opened the book, was the fact that it was set in Venice. The dark watery channels, the gondolas, the masked balls, there is just so much beauty, intrigue, and mystery in renaissance Venice. To be transported there via the pages of a book was something I couldn’t resist.

The plot hooked me as soon as Cass found the body of a strange woman in Livi’s grave. It was such a unique concept, and though I was upset at Cass for not being more suspicious of Falco, that is the scene that made me excited to keep reading.

Final verdict

I get irritated when girls in books trust a guy more than they should, just because he’s hot. That was my biggest issue with “Venom.” Falco was found on the crime scene, and blackmailed Cass into not going to the police, yet still she trusted him almost completely.

Other than that, this book was great. There were enough major and minor characters that it was hard to guess who the real murderer was. Although I had a distaste for Falco, I found the other characters to be well-rounded, funny, and likeable. The plot was exciting and moved along with energy.  

Most importantly, Cass had a lot of personal growth at the end. She resolved the Falco-Luca love triangle with more grace and wisdom than I would have thought possible of her at the beginning of the story. This beautiful book ended leaving the reader satisfied, yet yearning for the next book in the series to be published. 

Emily Smucker

EmilySEmily is happiest when she is drinking tea and reading a book in a sunny room. She is 22 years old and currently a sophomore in college. Majoring in communications and minoring in elementary education, Emily spends her spare time doing theater, blogging, and designing clothing. Her first book, titled “Emily,” was published in 2009, and she hopes to publish more books in the future. If you would like to read Emily’s blog you can find it at www.emilysmucker.com.


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