Cross My Heart

Cross My HeartBy Sasha Gould

Publisher: Delacourte
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Suspense
Source: Netgalley

Venice, 1585.

When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currency—secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murder—one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.

Goodreads Summary

For the past six years, letters from her older sister Beatrice have been a source of joy for Laura della Scala. That all ends when her father sends for her and she returns home to find that Beatrice has been killed, drowned in one of Venice’s canals. Laura isn’t allowed time to grieve – with her family’s money all but gone, she’s now expected to step into her sister’s place in an arranged marriage that will give their father wealth and position and her a miserable existence with a lecherous, smelly old goat of a man.

She’s given a glimpse of the life she could have – her sister’s best friend and her cousin have befriended her again and are happy, and she has a sweet encounter with a handsome young painter – before being jolted back into reality by her disgusting fiancé. She’s befriended by an older woman who tells her not to lose hope and that there are those that will help her – for a price. At a secret location, she meets the women of La Segreta and in exchange for disclosing a secret worthy of admission, her problem will be taken care of. Laura does have a big secret to tell, one she learned during her time in the convent about the most powerful man in Venice and it’s enough.

There’s an overriding theme in the story and it’s that no situation or person is necessarily what they appear to be. It made for good suspense, especially by the mid-point in the story when Laura was becoming paranoid about La Segreta but by the three-quarter mark, I really was wondering if anyone was going to be sacrosanct (the answer: barely). Most of it I could figure out later but it always seemed to come out of the blue and eventually I just rolled with it and accepted that like Mulder from The X-Files, my motto had to be, “Trust No One.”

Laura’s romance with Giacomo was a little rushed and insta-love but I think it probably was one of the most historically accurate parts of the book if you ignore the likelihood of a daughter of her standing consorting with a simple artist. I don’t think courting took that long before everyone was professing their undying love to each other back then, especially girls of Laura’s age and young handsome men. I admit to wondering who exactly Giacomo was when he was talking about painting chapels and developing his own special paint colors but I never guessed the weird little twist that put him squarely into the thick of the story and a decades-old inter-family feud.

Much of what I thought of the characters was tempered with what I questioned about them. I liked Laura’s dedication to her loved ones, even those that didn’t deserve it. She adored her sister to the point of foolishness, something she transferred to Giacomo. Then again, I had to wonder how a girl who’d been in a convent for six years could be dropped into complex Venice high society and not make any mistakes or who wouldn’t look twice at a well-dressed sixteen-year-old girl running around unchaperoned in the middle of the night through the streets of the city (one she was utterly unfamiliar with even).

If the story suffered from anything, it was that it tended to be pretty evenly shallow. There was an abundance of ideas, opportunities for historical detail and a lot more suspense but there didn’t seem to be any one area that was emphasized. Some things never made sense to me, like why in such a staunchly patriarchal society did Laura’s father openly despise his son (who never even appeared in the book) over nothing and why would that son basically abandon his family? All in all, the story did build to something of a big bang scene, if one that again had Laura running around unescorted. There was a nice confrontation and then things kind of faded away into one of those endings where the reader can decide some things. I liked the very last little bit because I think it was nice for the tone of the book but it did feel a little anticlimactic.

My Summary: In the end, this was more than the sum of its parts for me, mostly because I enjoyed Gould’s lovely writing style and in spite of the fizzled ending, wanted to see how the mystery of La Segreta, Beatrice’s murder and Laura played out. I do love historical fiction so I might be more inclined to pick something like this up but I think I’m also more inclined to be harder on some of the details. Overall, I wish this book had been longer and had more focus but I look forward to seeing what Gould comes up with next.

My Rating: B-

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