Katie Hickman – The Pindar Diamond
Length: 282 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Started: 02 September 2010
Finished: 05 September 2010
Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? I like historical fiction set in Venice, and I thought the description sounded interesting.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 30 August 2010.
Men are chasing nuns,
whores, lost loves, and a diamond
as big as a fist.
Summary: A mute woman washes up on the shores of Italy, nearly dead and clutching a baby that might be a real mermaid. A nun has given everything to escape the sultan’s harem, but she finds the strictures of her Venetian convent stifling to her spirit. A merchant who has turned to gambling, drink, and debauchery to try to run from the memory of his love. And, throughout it all, a persistent rumor of a diamond larger and more beautiful than any Venice has ever seen. The Sultan’s Blue: a diamond with the power to grant one’s heart’s desire.
Review: The book description that I initially read suggested that while this book was a follow-up to Hickman’s first novel, The Aviary Gate, it could work equally well as a standalone. Since I haven’t read the first book, I took this statement on faith… and that turned out to be a mistake. Sure, I was able to follow the action without a problem, and Hickman did eventually summarize (what I assume were) the main events of her previous book. However, I always felt like I was missing something by not knowing the backstory, something that would give weight and depth to the characters and their interactions and the plot as a whole, something that would pull this book together into a story instead of a bunch of disparate pieces.
Because, as it was, this book didn’t really work for me. The characters felt flat, and I didn’t really sympathize with any of them. (That’s not entirely true; I did enjoy the story of the giantess that is part of the traveling troupe that picks up the mute woman and her baby, but unfortunately she’s somewhat peripheral to the main storyline that revolves around Hickman’s familiar characters.) The separate story threads never gelled into anything cohesive, so it frequently felt like I was reading chunks of three separate novels. Big reveals that were played like they supposed to be surprising were in fact predictable almost from the first page of the book. The ending had about three too many coincidences to feel natural or satisfying. And, disappointingly, her Venice didn’t really feel like Venice. The scenes in the convent were well done, full of the details and description that bring historical fiction to life. But for the rest of the scenes… if you’re going to set a novel in historical Venice, I want it to be able to smell the canals, y’know? And in this case, whether it was due to a lack of descriptive writing, or simply a mismatch between her style and my preferences, I just didn’t feel it.
And that, really, was my issue with the book as a whole: it never excited me, never captivated me, and in the end, I just didn’t feel it. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: This book’s got plenty of potential to be a really excellent story; however, I just never felt like it came together the way it should have. The situation may be different if you’ve read The Aviary Gate and have that background to build on, but I wouldn’t recommend this one as a stand alone novel.
Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: They say lots of things – don’t they? – about what it’s like to drown.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 28: “She looked at the pattens – four inches high and inlaid with mother-of-pearl – that she had brought back with her, but decided against them, swapping them at the last moment for a pair of brocaded slippers.” – any of various kinds of footwear, as a wooden shoe, a shoe with a wooden sole, a chopine, etc., to protect the feet from mud or wetness.
- p. 33: “Its stuccoed walls were washed with that pinkish colour so peculiar to Venice – in his trade, he mused, they might call it anything between lady’s blush and pimpillo – but he never could find the right word to describe it.” – A West Indian name for the prickly pear.
- p. 41: “From her pocket she brought out a small cylinder, about the size of a fairground penny whistle, covered in shagreen; shooing the others away she took up her position at the window.” – an untanned leather with a granular surface, prepared from the hide of a horse, shark, seal, etc.
- p. 117: “Here and there he could see the tops of the trees, poplar and cypress, the avenue of pleached limes, could picture with ease now the famous physic garden within those walls; a topography that he had come to know so well over the last few weeks, he could have made his way round it blindfolded.” – to interweave (branches, vines, etc.), as for a hedge or arbor.
- p. 164: “‘Then it had money in it?’ Maryan ventured. ‘Some aspers perhaps?’” – a former silver coin of Turkey and Egypt: later a money of account equal to 1/120 of a piaster.
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