Review: Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin

Reviewer: Stephanie

Blurb: The Murano glassmakers of Venice are celebrated and revered. But now three are dead, killed for attempting to leave the city that both prized their work and kept them prisoner. For in this, the 17th century, the secret of their craft must, by law, never leave Venetian shores. Yet there is someone who keeps the secret while defying tradition. She is Sophia Fiolario, and she, too, is a glassmaker. Her crime is being a woman –Sophia is well aware that her family would be crushed by scandal if the truth of her knowledge and skill with glass were revealed. But there has never been any threat-until now. A wealthy nobleman with strong connections to the powerful Doge has requested her hand in marriage, and her refusal could draw dangerous attention. Yet having to accept and cease her art would devastate her. If there is an escape, Sophia intends to find it.

Now, between creating precious glass parts for one of Professor Galileo Galilei’s astonishing inventions and attending lavish parties at the Doge’s Palace, Sophia is crossing paths with very influential people–including one who could change her life forever. But in Venice, every secret has its price. And Sophia must decide how much she is willing to pay?

Review: Is it just me, or was history class one of the most painful classes ever, in high school? It wasn’t particularly hard, just…boring.
The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin is of the “historical fiction” genre. For me, reading historical novels was always the best part of history class. It became weary to have to read pages and pages of thick, heavy textbooks, and then sit through hours and hours of dull documentaries (though they were an easy method for me to catch up on my sleep), so being able to read something fictional, yet still relevant, was always a sort of relief. Had I been given the chance to read The Secrets of the Glass in 10th grade Honors World History, I might have dreaded that course a little less. Otherwise, I couldn’t quite get myself to enjoy this book.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully written. Morin pays such breathtaking attention to detail, and I swear, there wasn’t one word that was used twice throughout the entire book. Aside from extensive vocabulary and amazing imagery however, the story lacked intrigue.

Sophia, the protagonist, is an entirely two-dimensional character. She’s the most beautiful of the three Fiolario daughters, and the most innocent of them too. Her biggest concerns are 1) her father is suffering from dementia; 2) she is betrothed to a man she despises, Pasquale da Fuligna; 3) she is in “love” with another man, Teodoro Gradenigo; and 4) she is the only woman in the world who knows the art of glassmaking. But because Sophia was such an unrealistic and unmoving character, I couldn’t find mind myself feeling sympathetic for her at all. First of all, she practically bawled every time her father blanked out. Every so often, he would forget everything, everyone, and the doctors said he was losing his mind to age. Sophia is supposed to be the practical goody-good virgin; she’s not doing anything practical or goody-good by crying for her father’s disease. It was painful for me to read about such babyish behavior. Secondly, Morin made it clear that Sophia must marry da Fuligna, a man who is neither rich, nor handsome in any way. I actually laughed at this a little; surely the Fiolario family must have had the tiniest ounce of dignity. Why they would marry their eldest daughter off to a man who neither loved their daughter, nor had anything to offer, I’ll be darned. And of course, Teodoro. Ah. He was probably the only character in the book I could imagine without giggling or wincing. Handsome, charming, polite…what a gentleman. So much of gentleman to Sophia actually, that within first meeting him, she declared to herself that she was in love with him. Chemistry? Nooo, who needs chemistry when you have love at first sight (even though you’re already engaged)?

Morin clearly attempted to weave an intricate plot with complicated details, but for some reason, the two didn’t mix. The Secret of the Glass made out for a really, really interesting textbook. I could have written my essay on Roman Studies with just this book, in the 10th grade. But as a novel, it was weak and had difficulty capturing my attention.

I understand that this book was written because of an initial passion Donna Russo Morin held for Italian glassworks…a little too big of a passion, perhaps? I mean, the first paragraph of the book is an epic simile where glassblowing is compared to the reaching of an orgasm. I thought I was a fan of the hot and sweaty stuff until I read those few lines.

Most historical romances are romance novels with little tidbits of the respective history thrown in; The Secret of the Glass was an informative description with tidbits of respective romance thrown in. If you’re into that kind of stuff, this book will enchant you. But if you’re like me and require more fiction than fact, then Morin’s story may bore you to tears.