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.
With the summary telling you everything you need to know about the beginning of this novel, let me just say that I loved the way it was written. It was simple enough to not be annoying but it really helped put me in the scene, in Venice in a time when women were legally owned. Laura’s story begins as one owned by her father–she is put into a convent at age ten so her father does not have to provide for two daughters, she is taken out of the convent (again, to secure her father greater fortune) when her sister dies, and she is destined to marry her sister’s fiancé. She doesn’t have much to be happy about, seeing as how her newfound freedom from God is turning out to be another prison. This changes when she meets Allegreza and the Segreta. Laura knows something about the Doge, and she trades it for safety.
Of course, she’s not really safe. The Segreta is more than what they seem, and Laura quickly realizes that the women of the society are more malicious than kind. And honestly, I liked them. Politics, especially medieval politics, are messy. People get hurt. Tough decisions must be made. So while these women are most likely liars and manipulators, at least they’re doing more than wringing their hands over finding a rich suitor. In the midst of all this, Laura meets Giacomo, a royal painter who definitely has secrets. Laura is, predictably, something of an idiot about him, making rash decisions and jumping to conclusions, but that’s just something I’ve come to expect from girls in YA. And in another YA trope, one of Laura’s only friends turns out to be a malicious liar. That made me sad.
The ending was kind of jarring, to be honest, because the villain shows up and, of course, they’re chatty and also insane, which comes kind of out of left field. Everything is sort of tied up in a nice bow, despite the slightly open-ended ending. (I honestly didn’t think it was being set up for a sequel, but I’m not sure.) The romance was nice, the mystery was interesting until I figured it out about three quarters of the way through, the descriptions were nice… That’s all I can think of to say. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t life-changing. There wasn’t too much of an emphasis on the romance, which I liked as well. It’s pretty short too, so if you’re looking for an easy historical YA novel, this one might be for you.