Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Juliet by Anne Fortier

Anne Fortier's debut novel, Juliet, takes her reader to Sienna, Italy in both the present day and as it was in the 14th century. A re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet with shades of The Da Vinci Code (without the gnostic gospels element).

Julie Jacobs is mourning the recent loss of her beloved Aunt Rose when more grief comes her way. Her Aunt has left her entire fortune to Julie's superficial and shrewish twin, Janice. The only things bequeathed to Julie are actually from her long-deceased mother - a key, a secret and a passport in Julie's real name - Giuletta Tolomei. She discovers she is a direct descendant of the 14th century Giuletta Tolomei who lived in Sienna, Italy and was half of the ill-fated pair of lovers immortalized in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

As Julie travels to Sienna in hopes of discovering what treasure is unlocked by her mother's key, she learns the "Curse upon both your houses," may be alive and well these 600 years later. She soon meets a wealthy woman from Sienna who is insistent on befriending her (and introducing her to the lady's handsome nephew). Armed with ancient diaries, relics, a fresco and a 14th century painting, she sets out to understand the past as a way to understand the present and perhaps her future.

The book moves along at a quick pace and I actually found it to be quite the page turner (until the end, but that critique comes later). The chapters alternate between events in the present and events in the 14th century which seem to correlate and pushes Julie further into danger. The whole re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet was very appealing and works to a large extent. There are lots of red herrings and false turns to keep the suspense going, but there are also abrupt changes and storylines that are simply abandoned that mar the story as well.

The ending is rather disappointing. While it ends the way the romantic in me says it should ultimately, it felt rushed with new characters introduced and familiar characters almost rewritten (to the point I wondered if a new heroine had been determined!). The transition from Julie and Janice's relationship at the beginning of the novel to the one at the end happened almost instantly and was not supported adequately in the narrative. The change was too abrupt and hurt believability.

Nevertheless, this is overall a fun read. It has enough history, romance, intrigue and mystery to keep the reader involved, but also enough holes, character underdevelopment and farfetched storytelling to make its reader long for what the novel could have been. Perhaps the movie in development will fill in these gaps.

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