Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett
Cover art by Paul Coomey
Published by Stripes in 2018
400 pages in paperback
Summary from author’s website:
Mary continues her journey through Victorian society – now as the much-admired Persephone Lavelle. From lavish Venetian balls to luxurious Mayfair townhouses, she gets a glimpse into the most glamorous lives of the age. When she meets a mysterious Harlequin she gets the chance to rise to the very top, but to do so she must betray someone close …
A reader’s perspective
Straight off, I would say it’s best to read Finding Ophelia first. There is a helpful recap in the sequel (which is great if you’ve forgotten some details) but I think you’d enjoy it even more as part of a set. Nonetheless, there are enough clues to work the most important aspects out.
Unveiling Venus has more light and shade, or chiaroscuro as the artists say. There is more humour this time which neatly offsets the darker themes of deceit, revenge, and tragedy. The fun comes from both character-led humour, and in spotting real characters from history – I can say no more because of spoilers. It’s a bit like the cameo roles in cinema: Terry Pratchett appeared in all the film adaptations of his books.
As you might expect from the sequel to The Art One, it is a strongly visual story. That’s why I put the full wrap as the lead image. The contrast between the bright and beautiful masked young woman and the gothic back alleys of Venice could not be clearer. You have the sense of both joy and threat entwined which suits the story perfectly.
I loved the recreation of Venice at that time – so atmospheric. ( I am told an old map of Venice will serve you just as well now, it has changed so little.) The story features plenty of art and beauty as you might expect – but relationships are right at the heart of it.
There are terrible misunderstandings and friendship put to the severest test. We see the results of both deliberate naiveté and world-weary cynicism. The double standards of the time (which still have resonance in the contemporary world) are thoroughly explored. This might sound all a bit worthy – but Unveiling Venus definitely isn’t!
Again, Sophia Bennett has written a fully rounded story with satisfying pay off – but there’s the promise of more to follow. We’ll just have to be patient to find out when, and where . . .
To adults choosing for younger teens: note that Unveiling Venus does refer to opoid abuse – which was legal then. It is essential to the plot and the consequences are made clear. There is also a certain degree of violence (because of boxing) and reference to the sex trade of the time. Nothing worse than you’d come across in any Sherlock Holmes adventure, in my opinion.
A Writers View
Points to admire
- knowing history so well she acknowledges deliberate changes – very professional
- setting the end up so there are two possible locations to come – which one first?
- approaching important issues ‘sideways’, by using another era
- plenty of ‘what should she do now?’ moments
- Venice. Always.