Cross My Heart, by Sasha Gould

Sasha Gould's historical mystery/romance Cross My Heart isn't perfect, but YA novels as ambitious as this one are rare*, so I want to give credit where credit is due: apart from some minor missteps, Cross My Heart is atmospheric and compulsively readable.

Cross My Heart opens in Venice, 1585, as sixteen-year-old Laura della Scala glumly counts down the days until she will be forced to become a nun. Her father, who deposited her in a convent as a small child, has no use for a second daughter... until Laura's older sister drowns, and the politically advantageous marriage he has arranged for her is jeopardized. He summons Laura home, announcing that she will marry her sister's wealthy and powerful fiancé, Vincenzo (despite the fact that Vincenzo is sadistic, lecherous, and approximately one million years old). Desperate to escape her father's plans, Laura joins the Segreta, a secret society of women who manipulate Venetian society from the shadows. The Segreta disposes of the repulsive Vincenzo, but Laura soon realizes that her “saviors” might have an agenda of their own.

Cross My Heart struggles with an overabundance of cartoonishly evil villains and a formulaic love interest. Happily, the book's weaker elements are offset by its vivid historical setting, Gould's evocative writing style, and one truly memorable antagonist: Laura's father, whose absolute selfishness and volatile moods prove to be just as dangerous to his daughter as [SPOILER] the professional assassin she grapples with at the end of the story. I suspect I would have enjoyed the story even more had it focused exclusively on Laura, her father, and the Segreta, but it managed to be hugely entertaining as-is.

One last minor complaint: the cover art for Cross My Heart sucks, and I was only slightly mollified by the discovery it might have been even worse. (Why did they change it from this? WHY?!?) I avoided reading this book for ages, assuming it was yet another Gossip Girl-inspired story about modern-day rich kids being angst-ridden at fabulous parties. That turned out to be a false impression, but a girl wearing eyeliner, sparkly lip gloss, and a mask made out of glitter glue totally fails to say “Page-turning Historical Melodrama” to me.

*Usually they're more along the lines of I Am Number Four, possibly my least favorite YA book ever.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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