The Orphan's Song
As someone who studied classical voice for years, I’m always thrilled to find novels that center around singing. The Orphan’s Song, the first adult novel by author Lauren Kate – who is known for her YA fantasy romances – is a lush and evocative love story in which the role of music is second only to the romance.
Violetta and Mino have lived almost all their lives at the Hospital of the Incurables, an orphanage in Venice founded by the Catholic Church. Violetta was left there as a baby and knows nothing about the mother who abandoned her, while Mino was five when his mother dropped him off there, and he secretly dreams of one day being reunited with her.
Life for the girls who live at the orphanage is extremely regimented. Those with musical talent are trained to be part of the various choirs run by the church, and a select few are chosen for the world famous Coro, which is made up of only the best singers. Coro girls are required to sign an oath that forbids them from singing outside the church walls. Being chosen for the Coro isn’t easy, but it’s something Violetta has dreamed of for as long as she can remember. She’s not happy about all the rules she’ll have to follow, but she’s sure she can find a way around them when the time is right.
Mino’s upbringing is very different from Violetta’s. Boys do not study music. Instead, they’re housed, fed, and clothed until they’re old enough to obtain an apprenticeship outside the orphanage. This affords them quite a bit of freedom, but for Mino, who loves to play the violin, the idea of being apprenticed to a tradesman is far from exciting.
Mino and Violetta meet one night on the roof of the orphanage, and from that night on, they are bonded in a way that will change both their lives in irrevocable ways. Mino dreams of marrying Violetta and setting up a music shop of his own, but Violetta isn’t ready to settle down as a wife and mother, and so, she turns down Mino’s marriage proposal and seems to dedicate herself completely to the coro while Mino strikes out on his own and becomes a well-known maker of beautiful violins.
The story then follows Mino and Violetta’s lives during the ten years during which they are not in contact. Violetta begins to perform in secret at a fancy gentleman’s club, while Mino scours the city in hopes of finding his mother. Their lives are filled with intrigue and danger, and neither is able to fully push thoughts of the other from their minds.
There’s a lot to love about The Orphan’s Song. The vivid descriptions of eighteenth century Venice made me feel as though I’d traveled back in time. I always appreciate an author’s ability to bring the setting to life in such a special way. Venice itself almost felt like a character in its own right, and I reveled in that aspect of the story.
The same thing can be said about the lovely way the author describes the music of the time. I grew up with classical music, so reading about the music Violetta and Mino perform gave me a feeling of utter joy. I really wanted to listen to some of the music described in the book, an experience I can honestly say I haven’t had before reading this book. Sure, music is mentioned in lots of today’s fiction, but rarely does it evoke such strong feelings in me as a reader.
I want to tell you I loved everything about this novel, but sadly, that didn’t turn out to be true. I struggled to completely buy into the connection formed between the leads. Their initial meeting is described, and then we’re told that they continue to sneak out onto the roof at night so they can be together, but we don’t actually get to see that happen. I wanted to see their friendship deepen into romantic love instead of simply being told it had happened. Mino’s marriage proposal seemed to come out of nowhere, and I didn’t blame Violetta at all for refusing to marry him. Of course, the two are eventually reunited, and I loved watching them come together as adults, but I would have preferred to witness the early days of their relationship instead of having the focus so firmly set on them in adulthood.
I think part of my disappointment with the way the romance was handled was due to the fact that the book is being marketed as an historical romance, whereas it’s more like a piece of historical fiction with romantic elements. The romance plays a part, of course, but it didn’t feel central enough to the entire plot to qualify as a romance for my taste. Even so, I’m glad I read The Orphan’s Song, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from this author.