Daughters of the Silk Road- Debbie Rix

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‘Daughters of the Silk Road’ is a fascinating fictional journey through history; a story of generations linked by a precious family heirloom- a Ming vase. Believed to bring good fortune to its owners, what unfolds over the course of centuries reveals many trials and tribulations as the vase is passed on to descendants and travels the world.

Starting in the present day, the reader is introduced to the vase’s current owner Miranda who has inherited it, along with various other knick-knacks, from her great-aunt. Miranda isn’t especially keen on the object but keeps it out of respect for her relative’s wishes that she should continue the family tradition.

The story then switches to the origins of the vase as the reader is transported back to the 15th century where Italian merchant Niccolo dei Conti is travelling with his family back to Venice, who has been presented with the porcelain as a gift to pass onto the Doge. In fact, dei Conti decides to keep the vase on his return to Venice and charges his daughter with keeping it safe. From this point, the narrative centres around the vase and the lives of its various owners over the years, before returning to the present to discover whether or not it truly does bring fortune to those who possess it.

As a lover of Venice, the early section of the book centred on the dei Conti family was the most appealing. Vivid descriptions of the city and its customs, coupled with historical accuracy about the surrounding islands and the threat of the plague made for compelling reading.

The author has done a wonderful job of mixing fact with fiction, including many characters throughout who actually existed and blending in seamlessly to the narrative those she has invented to add further substance to the story.

Whilst the sections of the story set in the present don’t hold quite as much intrigue, they are an essential part of the overall plot in the end.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, this will definitely appeal!

The Waters of Eternal Youth- Donna Leon

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The Waters of Eternal Youth is the 25th offering from author Donna Leon in her Commissario Brunetti series and is every bit as well written as the first. Set, as always, in the beautiful city of Venice, this novel opens with Guido out of his comfort zone at a dinner party, where he is asked to reinvestigate a case from fifteen years earlier.

Manuela, the granddaughter of Venetian countess (and coincidently a friend of his mother-in-law), who had a morbid fear of water, was apparently pushed into the canal and suffered irreparable brain damage. A local, well known drunk claimed at the time to have seen someone push her in , but this was never fully investigated.

Brunetti finds himself almost inexplicably drawn to the case and as the facts are uncovered, further mysteries evolve.

As ever, this is as much a crime novel as it is a perfect depiction of Venice; a city steeped in tradition and history, yet subject to political unrest and at threat from an influx of day-tripper tourists who bring much needed revenue but who threaten the livelihood of Venetians who find themselves increasingly forced to leave their island home in search of a more financially viable place to live.

Leon understands Venice perfectly and weaves its history and special allure seamlessly into her novels. Brunetti is a perfect ambassador for the city; seeing both its splendid qualities but equally being acutely aware of the peril facing its future.

The family anecdotes: the mealtime discussions that are so easily relatable and the relationship between Brunetti, his fiery wife Paola and their children bring an element of normality amidst the criminal investigation and give the reader a clearer sense of what everyday life is like for Venetians.

This is not an intense crime novel, but rather a glorious mixture of everyday life and intrigue set against one of the most beautiful and evocative cities in the world. A thoroughly enjoyable read!