Review: Wheel of Fortune by Julia Talbot

From the Blurb: Fortunato is a mute lad, making his way in the shadowy world of Renaissance Venice. Angelo is the scribe charged with his education in reading and writing, all at the order of the mysterious Master Riccio. These reluctant allies come to know each other better than anyone could imagine and as Fortunato is dragged into a world of deceit and danger, Angelo is the only one he can trust and with any luck, love. Romantic historical suspense that begs for more at every cliffhanger.

Review by Alex Beecroft

When I started reading this, I was overjoyed by the way the author conjured up the setting.  I really felt that yes, life in the Doge’s palace in Venice might have been just like this for a child learning to be a tumbler and acrobat, and an ex-monastic scribe valued for his illuminations.  That delight carried me along for a good quarter of the book.  Little things, like the ink stains on Angelo’s hands, or the mosaic on the floor of the church, Basillio’s success at playing the female parts in plays, the atmosphere of the store-room where the old musical instruments are kept – these were so well written and enthralling that I was initially swept away simply by the lavish detail.

Both Angelo and Fortunato are very likeable characters, and I was intrigued by Fortunato’s dumbness and the efforts that the other characters had to make to communicate with him.  It’s an amusing twist that Fortunato is rejected by his family and goes through the angst so typical of m/m protagonists, but not because he’s gay – he’s flawed because he can’t speak.

The romance between Angelo and Fortunato also starts delightfully, with Angelo initially resentful of being given the task of teaching the boy to read, then charmed by Fortunato’s sweetness of temper, while dead set and determined not to allow himself to be attracted by someone who is at that point still a child.  The growing tenderness and trust which they each have for each other is another beauty of the book.  It’s nice to see a relationship which is obviously built on mutual kindness and liking, rather than the usual concentration on mere looks and lust.

Unfortunately my initial delight faded a little once I got past the midpoint of the book.  Fortunato began to grow up, enough to have a threesome with his friends and to develop fully realized desire for Angelo.  But his characterization did not seem to change in any way.  It’s hard to explain, but I felt he was still written as a sweet innocent child.  I was looking for some evidence that the child had turned into a man, and I didn’t find it.  This was also reflected in the way the other characters treated Fortunato; even at the end, when he’s stormed the dungeons and rescued his lover (while somehow still remaining sweet and innocent) the other characters persist in mothering him.  That had made sense at the beginning, but gradually became less and less convincing.

I also felt that once sex entered the equation, the novel’s wonderful attention to detail and characterization got sidelined in favour of fitting in a certain quota of sex scenes.  Fortunato’s discovery that his training has been in order to equip him to become Master Riccio’s assassin, and his reaction to being sent out on his first mission is passed by almost in parentheses.  All we see of it is him returning to weep on Angelo’s shoulder, and Angelo being outraged that Fortunato’s kind and gentle nature has been taken advantage of.  The fact that he’s killed someone in cold blood is ignored as though it was a triviality.

I’m not saying that you can’t have a naturally gentle person who is forced to kill and is devastated by it; I’m just saying that I didn’t feel it was given the weight it should have carried.  Angelo’s experience in the dungeons was passed over in almost the same kind of rush – as if it was an impediment to the story, rather than the story itself.  I came away wondering if the author had a deadline to hit, and had written the second half faster than the first.

I also became progressively more annoyed at the tarot card quotes scattered thick and fast throughout.  I have a pack myself and have occasionally used them for trying to think of a plot, but somehow showing them decreased the build up of tension and the feeling that the story was a cohesive whole.  Starting a new chapter with ‘sudden reversal of fortune’ or the like just made the text that came next feel as though it was colouring in between the lines of a picture you’d already seen.

From the first half of the novel, I formed the impression that Julia Talbot was a very talented writer, and I’m glad to have read the book for that alone.  I’ll be looking out for her other stuff with high hopes.  But I probably won’t be reading this one again.

Buy Fictionwise 

%d bloggers like this: