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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Maddalena and the Dark by Julia Fine

Julia Fine's Maddalena and the Dark is a gothic story set in 1700s Venice in which two young women's lives and destinies become intertwined through a series of dark, magical promises designed to secure the elusive destinies they desire.

There has already been a bargain, and this is something else that Luisa does not know.

It's early 1700s Venice at a prestigious music school for orphans, the Ospedale della Pietà.

Quiet, unassuming Luisa has always aimed to be the best at the violin. She wants to join the famed girls' orchestra and to one day become a protégé of Antonio Vivaldi. But her meek and mild manner invites only cold shoulders and contempt from her fellow students. That is, until the mysterious Maddalena arrives.

Maddalena is sent to the Pietà temporarily after scandal threatens to ruin her family's longstanding reputation. Her attendance at the school is a last-ditch attempt to preserve her marriage prospects and assert some sense of propriety. Yet she desperately yearns for some measure of independence, which is not easily available to the women of that time.

And what is there to trust? A mother who runs out on you? A brother who sells you like chattel and a father too busy to care?

The other girls at school only know that Maddalena draws them into her orbit, and everyone wants to be near her. Some are puzzled when she chooses Luisa to be her bosom friend. Nevertheless, Luisa and Maddalena become fast friends, and their link grows every deeper. Then Maddalena hatches a plan in which each of them might help the other achieve her ambitious dream.

But a young woman in that time has little say over her destiny. The girls make dark deals and may need to give up all that is precious in order to secure the power they need to determine their fate.

Why is it that a girl must always lead the way into unpleasantness?... So many of the girls she grew up with have already been given to old widowers--no one says a word if a husband is sixty and his new bride is sixteen. So many of the girls she grew up with die in childbirth, to be replaced by fresh blood, ad infinitum, until the old man finally dies.

Maddalena and the Dark has a distinct gothic tone, and the story treads ever deeper into seedy, suspect, forbidding scenes of magical realism that seem to foretell certain destruction.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

I received a prepublication version of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Flatiron Books.

Julia Fine is also the author of The Upstairs House and What Should Be Wild.

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