The very premise of this novel made me jump at it when offered on Amazon Vine. The reading, however, grew more and more disappointing as each page turned. Finally, I ended up slogging through in order to write the requisite review. I so wanted to love this book. Heaving a great sigh as I continue...
Pros: Iago. The name conjures up all that is 16th Century literature, European and Mediterranean coasts cloaked in the mists of violence, predatory religious zealots, mercenaries and ribald courtiers. The novel holds plenty of these. The balloon of expectation rose high upon reading the back matter, no doubt written by the book-manager at Snodin's publisher. It rose even higher when I began and found that the author has deftly slipped from one present-tense point of view for one character into another omniscient point of view for all others. Love IT! So seamlessly done anyone could ogle the scene changes and p.o.v. shifts with an eye to learning Snodin's skill.
There is so much good about this book, from its opening idea to the creation of interesting, varied, and colorful characters. The setting is pure gold with a wealth of costume and period detail. The movement is good, and the pace engaging. But. Everything comes to a screeching halt over the one thing that should make this novel rise from the shelves and fly to great heights.
Cons: The whole concept of the novel is completely deflated by utter bastardization of what should be lyrically florid language. Going back to Writing 101 - Please do not have people grunt, laugh, choke, snort, or ejaculate words. Throughout IAGO, certain characters consistently grunt, choke, and gasp dialog. Even once you get past the effulgent dialog tags, the words themselves are so anachronistic as to stop the read not with the poetic brilliance, but to give time for the eyes to quit rolling uncontrollably over such witticisms as "They sounded . . . nice," she says. Oddly, some sentences have misplaced words that jump out at the reader, "from" being one, which seem to tag the ends rather than a punctuation mark. I know this is an uncorrected proof, but, that's rather pointedly something someone should have caught, because it isn't part of the sentence structure from. Like that.
I can overlook a great deal as a reader when it comes to punctuation. Especially if you are out to tantalize us with period-perfect language. Dots and commas are a nuisance but a necessary tool of the trade. Unclosed quotes and rippling comma splices are not my target, but the book at this stage is loaded with punctuation anomalies. Languid paragraphs consisting of only one sentence and myriad commas, or actually two or three sentences separated by commas, feel, rather than Faulkner-esque, more like drowning. Again, hopefully, that will change in the final edit.
One real eye-gouger is the incessant repetition of first and last names. Almost all the characters with the exception of Iago, are belabored with their full names often with added titles. Annibale Malipiero is never just Annibale or Malipiero. Governor Lodovico Stornello is never Lodovico, or Governor Stornello. He is always Lodovico Stornello. Graziano Stornello and Gentile Stornello his brothers, must be introduced with the whole moniker intact each time, too. There are relatives galore, but most readers who would pick up a novel by this title will be able to hold in memory that Lodovico is one of the Stornello brothers without having his name hammered at. I found myself liking the character of Zinerva partly for her blessedly short name.
Plot - Much ado about funerals, sneaking suspicions about Who Killed Desdemona, and killing dozens of innocent people for basically no reason. Long, pointless letters that add nothing to the story. Many Italian names used for intrigue that never really plays out (foreshadowing a Cosa-Nostra follow up, or planting the idea that it all started way back when?) and some really odd use of violent power. See p. 91: Lodovico Stornello is looking for Iago on suspicion of murder, yet anyone who reports seeing the fugitive is tortured and killed in some horrific way. One brave soul goes to his death crying out that he really did see Iago, and told where Iago was headed, so they kill the poor man anyway but use his information to track the fugitive. If this were a movie, that's where the audience would walk out.
In the middle of an escape and what seems to be brutal murder that is later revealed to be only a good head-bashing to knock some arrogance out of an educator, the murderer Iago encourages our First Person Present Tense hero Gentile Stornello to go below and have sex with Franceschina (she of blessed single name). The dialog goes on and on "Go pleasure her. She's in need of delight." (after watching a gory bludgeoning, isn't every woman?) until the reader must wonder that Franceschina has jumped ship and swam for shore while our hero is wondering and finally cajoling Iago to accompany him below and show him how it is done. (EWWWW.) All in all the scene reads like a page from Midsummer Night's Dream, much braying and ineffectual defeat.
For comparison of the uneven writing as it bounces from random over-indulgence of an open thesaurus to blatant modern idioms, take these phrases from the prose:
p. 9, "The two lords ascended steps so vertiginous that the Florentine he had to be lifted from his chair..." Yes, he used vertiginous, adding 'he' after 'the Florentine' which sounds like Southern U.S. dialect.
p. 33, "...arrived here with four ships and a thousand more men, sir...That don't seem to me like a Signor on holiday do." A 'do'? Who talks like that outside of a Bette Davis movie?
p. 81, "If you've got it, flaunt it." And p. 313, "Let's give him a run for his money." Writing 102. Avoid cliches like the plague.
p. 220, "Our interlocutions regularly falter..." ? One could accept this degree of linguistic voracity with sympathetic felicity were it only not so faltering.
p. 268, " ...he seemed to have become a dab hand with the dagger..." dab hand? How veddy British. Please ignore all the others too, like 'bugger,' 'chicklets,' referring to youngsters, and 'squealer.'
p. 269, "... She was heading for the only discernible building... with a roof mostly open to the sky." followed by this dialog: "She'll be getting naked in there, I reckon..." This reviewer is struck speechless.
p. 300, " "I...I...I...I...I..." He looks quite defeated." What?
p. 433, "... I don't do fighting..." the 'do' in italics, as in 'I don't do Facebook, or polo, or football.'
p. 437, "...there was no fudging as to how he had died..." Fudging? again think 1500's.
Between the embroidered satin Signori and well-described scenes of poverty and place, the interesting characters and unique and delicious strangeness of all, I kept thinking, if only SOMEONE had gotten the language right, either an editor or the author himself, this would have been a marvelous work. Snodin is a fantastic talent at ideas and getting this one finished shows a monumental work. I just wish the writing itself had worked WITH the story rather than against it.
Have I missed the point entirely? It is supposed to be farcical? If Mr. Snodin or his editors read this review and please inform me of that intention, I will gladly re-think this review.