The Scarletti Curse
After having read The Scarletti Curse, the question comes to mind once again, why do writers write, and why do readers read historicals? What is the difference between a story set in centuries past as opposed to modern times if not to emphasize some aspect of history? Do the rules change in an historical novel? That is to say, if the reader doesn’t notice whether a fact is incorrect, is it okay for an author to skimp on accuracy, dates, styles, words, or does she only have to have it right if she thinks her audience is going to notice, or care?
Well, I’m one who notices and I’m also one who cares. Which brings me to my evaluation of The Scarletti Curse. This book is being marketed as a Gothic. What constitutes a Gothic? Gee, I honestly don’t know. Gargoyles in the corners might do it, but what else? This story takes place in Medieval Italy (as far as I can tell, since the author didn’t bother to give me a date or a setting). After a few references to bambina‘s, I figured I was somewhere in Italy, but the year was still a mystery. This was my first problem with this book. I need to know where I am and when I am, when reading a historical. The Holy Roman Empire, an aggressive, yet unnamed Spanish King (Charles perhaps?), the Austrians, the sea, mountains, and chilling breezes told me I must be in northern Italy (East coast? West coast?) somewhere between 962 and 1806 A.D., and most likely in the middle of the 16th century. But this author chose to avoid any references that might have confirmed my suspicions. This is not playing fair with the reader and I found it downright frustrating.
As for the story, it involves a very young and beautiful peasant girl named Nicoletta. Nicoletta is the villaggio healer, and is “different.” She’s only just seventeen, but has attracted the attention of the palazzo’s aristocrazia in the form of Don Giovanni Scarletti. He’s a man in his thirties, but, having fallen for Nicoletta at first sight, invokes the Bridal Convenant, which allows him to choose any woman from the villaggio he wishes for his wife. He chooses Nicoletti after she is brought to the palazzo to heal the don’s sick niece, who has been poisoned.
Nicoletta doesn’t want the “honor” of marrying Giovanni and resists at every turn. The fact that he’s twice her age doesn’t bother her, but the fact that her mother, her aunt, and many people from the surrounding area have been murdered while at the palazzo does disturb her somewhat. It’s rumored that all the Scarletti men are cursed and love their wives so much, they end up killing them in a jealous rage. This happened to Giovanni’s mother, his grandmother, and various other assorted relatives and servants.
Giovanni has two brothers, Vincente and Antonello, a grandfather, a cousin, Portia, and her daughter, all of whom act suspiciously in their turn. More murders occur. Servants are battered and bruised. Nobody names names. Two others are killed by Giovanni as they lay in wait to ambush him. There are a couple of villains from the village who must be dealt with, but overall, the story focuses on Nicoletta and Giovanni’s impending marriage. There are secret passageways, whispered voices, and murder plots. All this, and I’m still trying to figure out where in Italy they are.
Finally, the couple are wed, but a childhood friend of Nicoletta’s is murdered. That doesn’t stop our newlyweds from having one hot wedding night. The romance between Nicoletta and Giovanni, though probably historically accurate, struck me as uncomfortable. I can’t imagine my teenaged daughter married to a man in his thirties (and I don’t want to). The couple rarely speak to each other and spend little time together, yet, a bond of love is somehow formed. Perhaps that is because Giovanni is “different” too. Nicoletta can hear his thoughts and follow his directions without any words passing between them. Is this what makes The Scarletti Curse a Gothic? I’m still working on that one.
Toward the end of the book, all questions are answered and all loose ends tied up. Parts of the book held my interest and had me turning pages while other parts frustrated me. There are too many italicized Italian words, for instance. A few would have lent credibility and flavor, but so many slowed the story down. Anachronisms abound: sexy, gelatin, creature comforts. In medieval Italy? Scenery, costumes, hand movements – these are barely addressed. As a result, the story never came alive for me.
Another big problem was, the reader is never in Giovanni’s head. The story is told completely from Nicoletta’s perspective, which is traditional in a gothic romance, but frustrating nonetheless for this reviewer. We don’t know how Giovanni feels about his brothers, what his history is, what motivates him, except through bits of conversation and no more than three pages total of time in his head. Point-of-view switches are common, even within a paragraph, and sometimes I didn’t know who was thinking what.
While the mystery is compelling, with so few suspects, it won’t take you long to figure out whudunit, but even there the author doesn’t play fair by giving the reader much chance to figure it out. It’s sort of sprung on you and you have to think back about this character’s behavior in the past, but even then, there’s not much to go on.
I think Christine Feehan is a talented writer who just missed it on this one. It’s admirable that she chose a setting out of the ordinary, but helping the reader through more contextual clues would have been better. Lovers of traditional gothics will probably enjoy this one more than I did, but I prefer to get into the heads of my heroes.