One Knight in Venice is the fourth book in the Cavendish chronicles. Though the book is marked a medieval, it actually takes place during the Italian Renaissance in 1550.
Jessica Leonardo is a healer who was born and raised in Venice. The daughter of Jews who converted to Catholicism to avoid the Inquisition, Jessica takes great pains to avoid the ever-vigilant eye of the Holy Office. Her face also bears a mark that most people view as a sign of the devil, so she is never seen without her mask. Then one day her simple, private life is altered by the arrival of a tall, handsome Englishman. Francis Bardolph plays a wastrel Lord, but in reality he is a spy for the English crown. The mysterious, gentle Jessica enchants him, and he wants to learn more about her, while still protecting his own secrets.
What makes One Knight in Venice a cut above the average is its unique location and premise. Readers are often hard pressed to find medieval romance set anywhere besides England, Scotland or the occasional foray to Ireland. Venice is a fascinating location and Phillips has done her homework well. The descriptions of Carnevale delight every sense, from the vibrant colored costumes to the taste of sugared almonds. Readers are immersed in the atmosphere of Venice until one could almost believe they were there. Despite the amount of detail, the author never goes overboard. There is never the sense that she’s writing “look how much I know about Venice.” It’s also not common to see different faiths in romance novels. The inclusion of some Jewish history was interesting without being distracting.
The birthmark is not the only thing that makes Jessica a unique heroine. She is wise and filled with inner strength. Although at first she seems timid, when the time comes she is not afraid to defend herself and condemn the hypocrites who accuse her. She faces the threat of imprisonment and death everyday, yet she never feels sorry for herself, unlike our hero.
Francis, though terribly romantic towards Jessica, is pretty wishy-washy. His main problem in life is that the man who fathered him never accepted him as a true son. He wasn't treated cruelly, but there was never that paternal bond. Understandable as that may be, Francis is an adult and he really should get over it. It’s difficult to respect a hero who goes around whining because he’s a bastard and his mother’s a tart while the heroine is dealing with real problems. Still, the reader can't fault his devotion to Jessica and his willingness to publicly express his emotions for her.
Most of the secondary characters are standard stock. Cosma di Luna is the courtesan who has been scorned by Francis for Jessica, and wants revenge. Gobbo and Sophia are Jessica’s old, and protective friends. The one standout supporting character is Jobe, an African pirate who has a sixth sense. Jobe is wise, but with a streak of mischief that only a pirate could have. His vibrant personality helps the reader overlook some of Francis’ more milquetoast moments. It would be nice to see him have his own story, but he already has four wives, so that’s probably out.
More than anything, this book captures the allure of Venice. One of the best examples of this is the serenade scene. The lush descriptions of the rose water filled eggshells, Francis’ voice and the enthusiastic onlookers pulls the reader into the romantic setting right along with Jessica.
If you’re looking for a twist on the usual medieval romance, One Knight in Venice satisfies.