by Michele Jaffe

May 2000
ISBN: 0-671-02740-9
Reviewer Graphic Button Pocket Books
Mass Market Paperback

The Stargazer is a lush debut book that is perfection, from a captivating story well told to a cover beautiful to behold and a title that is well chosen, describing the exciting story and its seductive characters perfectly. The Stargazer is a murder mystery set during the Renaissance, the age of inventions and discoveries, where we find Bianca Salva, a very independent and learned woman, desperate to loose her virginity. She encounters the man of her dreams and likely candidate, Ian Foscari, while in a seemingly guilty position of having a knife in her hand over the dead body of a well-known and well-loved courtesan.

Ian, in grave need of a non-suitable aspirant for the position of his wife (He doesn't believe himself worthy of being loved!), takes Bianca into his house as his fiancée, despite and because of his belief in her guilt. Not nearly satisfied with her lot, Bianca secures from Ian the right to search for the real suspect to have herself absolved of the crime.

The freedom with which Bianca is allowed to move within Venice's different districts made me envious of her, as it allowed Bianca not only to experience knowledge and occupational satisfaction but also to satisfy her curiosity in everything sensual and sexual. In Ian she not only finds a more than willing teacher, but also a man that challenges her in every other sense. He is a domineering man with no visible humor or willingness for laughter, who reveals in every conversation his emotional turmoil and pain. His vulnerability and his struggle with his feelings for Bianca and his brothers is beautiful and touching to follow.

With witty exchanges presented with ease in a fresh new voice and clearly with its own unique flow and rhythm, Michelle Jaffe is a new author worth trying out. I was surprised and very happy to have discovered her for myself and I'm more than willing to share her with others interested and curious in a unique voice that will go places, a writer that will find her way on many a reader's keeper shelf.

The language used and references not only draws me into the story but anchors me to it. With an ease that is so unobtrusive, details about that era, the setting, the morals, the clothes, are presented always as necessary parts of the story and never disrupt its flow. This is an imperative quality for a good historical book, and The Stargazer is one that animates me to keep on reading about the depicted period, to learn more and to satisfy my curiosity which is fanned by the mesmerizing characters, colorful locations and intriguing values.

In such an intriguing environment where the characters move with an ease that captivates me in how it shows completely different moral and ethical values than I'm used to in the mostly British set historical romance novels. The characters sometimes do behave in ways that prove their blindness towards the obvious truths, but it did provide me with some great, rather comical scenes in which their stupidity comes forth. For some reason this works in Michelle Jaffe's book. I'd say it's because the hero and the heroine are so damn likeable that I was willing to forgive them just anything. However, they do redeem themselves in the eyes of the readers and their partners, especially in wonderful touching and funny declarations of love as well as very unique, bold, seductive and inventive love/sex scenes, culminating in an exhilarating climax which left me breathless and dreading the final pages, not wanting the book to end. If The Stargazer does leave a couple questions open, like why Bianca so desperately wants to get rid of her virginity - well so what, those open questions don't get in the way of a superbly well-told story.

A story, in which all the way through Michele Jaffe creates episodes that are compelling in that they are written with an obvious joy and love of its protagonists and Venice, a city in all its fascinating facets. To top it all, the secondary characters, in a family of virile men of good looks, awesome strengths and dangerous attractions, are just as well drawn and entertaining. I am looking forward to revisiting them with Ian's brother Crispin's story in The Water Nymph.

Reviewed in December 2001 by Kris Alice.

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