cover image Maddalena and the Dark

Maddalena and the Dark

Julia Fine. Flatiron, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-2508-6787-2

Fine (The Upstairs House) beguiles with this decadent tale of desire set in 18th-century Venice. Luisa, a 15-year-old orphan, is raised at the all-girls conservatory Ospedale della Pietà, where composer Don Antonio Vivaldi is concertmaster and Luisa dreams of becoming a star violinist. Her life is upended by the arrival of Maddalena Grimani—a charming girl of noble birth, sent to the conservatory in hopes that a modest education will dispel rumors of her illegitimacy and increase her marriage prospects. The two girls embark on an intimate friendship, holding hands during mass and covertly sharing a bed, and Maddalena reveals a powerful secret she’s discovered: the sea grants wishes in exchange for offerings. Maddalena encourages Luisa to cast her own wish: to become the Pietà’s best violinist. But as Luisa’s wish is realized and her enchanting performances capture the attention of Vivaldi and later those of the men in Maddalena’s life, Maddalena makes another wish of her own—that she’ll have Luisa’s undivided affection. Maddalena’s wish sets the girls on a path of increasingly dangerous covenants with the sea that threaten to destroy everything they’ve attained. Fine delivers a masterly exploration of the shifting power dynamics of the protagonists’ relationship, particularly as Maddalena’s devotion to Luisa curdles into obsession. With the alluring Venice backdrop, this will frighten and captivate in equal measure. (June)