Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7084-5
Historical Romance, 2001
Deborah Johns’s The Lion of Venice is twenty years too late. Not just because of its setting – late 14th century Italy – which, as the wise editors would say today, “Won’t sell!”, but because of everything “1980s epic”: a ridiculous waif of a heroine and her foil: the non-virginal harlot Other Woman (the Madonna/Whore dichotomy is very strong here), a hero who thinks the worst of our heroine at the slightest compulsion, and sweeping political saga that completely swamps what little of the characterization of our leads.
The story is this: once Lord Olivier Ducci Montaldo was kidnapped and held by a Sultan for ransom, and he was freed thanks to the help of a harem girl. In return, when the harem girl sends her daughter Julian Madrigal to him, he feels honor-bound to take her in. But eh, he is engaged to a woman whom I’m told on page one, is “not even a virgin”. Oops. And yes, the other woman is as stupidly cartoon-like as they come.
The story goes on with Crusade preparations, et cetera. These could have been readable if the characters aren’t so annoying. Julian – god, I’m sure if Olivier asks her to “Sit and wait, doggie!” in a snow-covered woods one day, she will, and she will willingly starve to death sitting and waiting. This is how pathetic this woman is. She has no dimension, no personality apart from this grand love she has for Julian from the start. No compulsions, no motivations, no depths, just me being told again and again “Even if he thought the worst of her, she still loved him… even if he hurt her feelings, she still loved him… even if he…” Oh, the pain of following this woman’s flat, doormat behavior.
I have, in my mind, this image of Julian as a mangy, pitiful puppy left in the cold, waiting until hell freezes over, until Master Olivier – who cheerfully boinks other Non-virginal, Slutty, Impure Women – finally zips up his pants and snaps his fingers. Oh, she can die now – Master Olivier has paid attention to her! At last, her celibacy and devotion are rewarded with a love as pure as snow!
Here, Julian, see this stick? Now go fetch! Run, run! Now that’s a good girl. Watch out for that – oops. Oh well.