Passion Blue is an interesting YA mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Granted, the "fantasy" element is less prominent than the book synopsis may lead you to believe. In fact, to those who go into this expecting fantastic magical elements you will likely be disappointed.
The story is set in Rennaissance Italy and focuses on the life of a teenage girl named Gulia. She's the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Gulia and her mother are both servants in the nobleman's household but eventually both the nobleman and Gulia's mother die and her fate is left in the hands of her father's wife. While alive, her father had arranged a small dowry for Gulia. His wife is obviously not happy at the arrangement and twists the law to get rid of Gulia by "marrying" her of to a convent. Naturally Gulia is dismayed, but as a young girl in Italy with no family and no money, her life is not her own. She sells what little she can to purchase a magical charm to try and help change her fate but reluctantly heads off to the convent.
From the beginning, I was impressed with the vibrant writing and the portrayal of historic Italy. The descriptions of the city, the households and the social environment just felt very real and really drew me in. As the book progresses we wander from the home of a nobleman through the streets of various Italian cities into the hidden rooms and cloisters of a convent and back through the streets to the bustle of the market and the intensity of an artist studio. The many settings were each rich in description and tone.
The core storyline felt a little cheesy and definitely YA-romance in aspects. I can't fault the tone of the plot since it's not really my "cup of tea" but I did get a little annoyed at Gulia's constant pining for romance and her ongoing search for the prospective husband who would rescue her from the convent.
The book synopsis points out that Gulia's magical charm is created to help her gain her heart's "true desire." The synopsis also suggests that she might not know what that desire truly is. With that small "teaser", I was able to readily predict her "true desire" within the first few pages of the book. As a result, some of the intended tension fell a little flat for me and I had to look at Gulia's motivations and desires as laughable and unbalanced. As she continued to pursue romance I was able to predict undesirable outcomes. Even though I couldn't guess at the exact nature of the problems, I wasn't surprised at the results that came about nor at Gulia's change of heart as the problems unraveled.
Taking the romantic and magical elements out of the story, I found this to be a fun and interesting bit of historical fiction. I can't speak to the full truth of the historical elements but I felt like the story and the writing worked to support the fiction in such a way that the plot points felt believable. I really enjoyed the suggestion that the convent worked to produce the various works of art with general anonymity and lack of fame but while still being allowed to explore creative and artistic freedoms not generally provided to women of the time. I liked the competition and jealousy between the various nuns as well as between the convent and other artists in the community.
I didn't mind the "magical"/"fantasy" element but I would have either liked to have seen it expanded or minimized. While it was interesting as a superstitional element it felt like there was a nagging desire to turn the magic into a more influential piece of the plot. The novel worked fine without expanding the magic into anything more than it was but there were moments in various scenes where the magic tried to become more powerful and central to the plot but then was pulled back. This back and forth was a little confusing in trying to decide what place the magic played.
Overall, I had fun with the story. It's definitely a lighter bit of historical fiction but for the Teen/YA crowd it should be a good fit. Personally I could have done without the romance story arc but acknowledge that it did help provide additional motivation to help Gulia in her quest to find her true desire. I think this book will find a good audience in teenage girls particularly those with some interest in history or art.
3 out of 5 stars
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