Genre: Fiction/Supernatural Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
In some places Megan Chance’s new release, The Visitant, is categorized as Women’s Fiction, a connotation that does it little to no justice. It makes a presumptive reader place it among bodice-rippers and romance novels and this could not be further from reality. At the same time some book sellers will place it on the shelves of historical fiction, where it yet again does not belong. It is unfair to place a book like The Visitant in any genre where it may alienate an audience, when it is so much more. This is not to say that the world of genre fiction is to be avoided, but the sad fact is that some readers would turn their noses at such things and Chance’s work deserves more than that.
Set in 19th century Venice, in a crumbling old palazzo the reader is introduced to the young Elena Spira. She has been sent to care for Samuel Farber, after he has been assaulted in the streets and left with cracked ribs, a broken nose and badly concussed. Samuel holds a horrible secret, he has epilepsy, and it may come in the way of his parents’ plan to marry him off. Both families have poorly hidden agendas as Samuel’s reputation for wild living could be curtailed by marriage and his intended bride’s family need the money. The Spira’s aren’t without an agenda themselves. Having lost a patient in her care earlier, lured in by his charms, Elena has her own baggage.
Ca’ Basilio, the palazzo where Samuel is recuperating, is owned by his friend Nero Basilio and his impoverished noble family. Elena quickly figures out that they are using the Farbers by having them send money to feed and house their son. A fact that would motivate them to keep him in the decaying building, through the alluring maid he constantly gets involved with. There is something more. Something sinister connected to the palazzo, a sort of sadness. Samuel begins showing odd behavior that Elena first believes to be minor epileptic episodes, but are something completely different. There seems to be something haunting him, there are shapes and singing at night as well as Samuel’s sleepwalking.
Can it be the ghost of Nero Balisio’s sister, who fell to her death in the river below, or is there something else going on?
Chance tale of people bound to this ghostly palazzo is quite inspiring. From the first page to the last she sets a somber mood that follows the reader through the story. The characters are rich, especially Samuel, who invokes emotions from sympathy to disgust and Elena, whose actions at times astonish and worry you. There is much of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw in The Visitant with the reader time and again questioning what is truly happening and Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho where a young woman is trapped in a castle and doubts her own senses.
Its a tale of dark memories and hidden agendas, but also of romance. Elena teeters on the brink of falling for the damaged Samuel and even his charming friend Nero, even though they both warn her about the other. Samuel represents her sexual desire, challenging her to read an erotic novel and goading her to join him in bed, while Nero is more of the romantic, showing her around the area. Here Chance utilizes a classic romantic trope, recognized in that type of fiction, but in her defense she does with a lot more effect than others.
There is much to enjoy in The Visitant; there are ghosts, romance, suspense, psychological mystery and surprises. It is a low-key book that moves the reader slowly to the end and does it very well.