|Amanda McCabe is an author whose career path hit a speed bump when Signet stopped publishing its Regency romance line. She is back with a new publisher and a new romance set in 1525 Venice. (Ms. McCabe’s first literary journey to Venice was in one of her Regencies.)
Julietta Bassano is a widow. After her husband’s death in Milan, she moved to Venice where she owns a successful perfume business; she both formulates and sells scents. Her customers are among the elite of Venetian society. (A successful businesswoman, Julietta is actually not all that notorious.) Late one night she is called to the Landucci palazzo by Cosima Landucci. The young woman implores Julietta’s help. Her husband, a member of the Doge’s court, is dead in his bed, poisoned. Cosima insists she is not to blame.
Marc Antonio Velazquez, called Il leone (the lion), is a Spaniard, a sea captain, who has vanquished the Barbary pirates. The Doge and all Venice celebrate him because the pirates had wreaked havoc on Venetian commerce. When Marc comes to Julietta’s shop to buy perfume for his mother, Julietta is captivated. He invites her to attend a Carnival masquerade ball with him; she accepts.
Count Ermano Grattiano is a powerful, wealthy noble. At first he was interested in purchasing land Julietta owns, but he soon turned his efforts to acquiring Julietta herself. She is fearful of incurring the older nobleman’s ire but does not welcome to his attentions.
Balthazar Grattiano is Ermano’s only child. He is sullen and restless. His father is disappointed in him; he fears Balthazar is too much like is mother, of good lineage but with little spirit.
Bianca is Julietta’s maid and shop assistant.
I picked up A Notorious Woman because I was intrigued by a romance set in sixteenth century Venice. I was anticipating a story thick with Venetian atmosphere, Renaissance intrigue, Latin passions, a setting replete with gondolas, canals, and palazzos. But in spite of the uncommon setting and well-defined characters, something was missing from the start.
The fault lies with the plot. Or the lack thereof. A succession of scenes with Marc and Julietta dancing, embracing, and kissing, with Count Ermano menacing, with Balthazar glowering does not a story line make. A Notorious Woman is 290 pages long, and the belated plot doesn’t show up until more than halfway through. Moreover, hints about political machinations and supernatural influences notwithstanding, the plot heads off in an expected direction.
It’s encouraging to see an author break out of the traditional romance settings, but that doesn’t excuse the absence of a plot. A plot is an absolutely essential element wherever and whenever the characters might be. If I hadn’t been reading A Notorious Woman to review it, I would have abandoned it well short of the halfway mark.
As gratifying as it is to see a Regency author survive the demise of the Signet line, A Notorious Woman turned out to be a disappointment.