Ghost stories are not generally the genre I go for. Historical fiction is my go-to genre. I don’t usually like stories that involve exorcisms, because they are so often used for the shock factor. But exorcisms in the context of actual history… I like that.
All this makes Megan Chance’s THE VISITANT a perfect book for me.
Set in the latest years of the 1800s, in Venice no less, it is the story of Elena, an American woman seeking redemption for a mistake that cost her father his job by nursing an ex-pat back to health in Venice so he can be married to a proper lady. The twist, because it’s hard to say what else you can call it, that Samuel the ex-pat is epileptic is not something I’d expect in a historical fiction romance ghost story. Chance brilliantly weaves the then-modern thinking on epilepsy into the story, making it a forbidden, hidden thing that everything is done to hide when it is the only son of a powerful family. This only raises the pressure on Elena, facing her own unhappy future, and she is stubborn in her determination to heal-slash-hide Samuel’s condition so she can have some chance of happiness.
She isn’t so self-centered as to not see the truth of Samuel’s reality, though, as she lets him tease her into reading erotic novels and falls in love with his best friend, Nero, whose house they are both staying at. Elena, though, is her own harshest critic and she considers admitting defeat many times. It is always Samuel who pulls her back.
Even as she becomes convinced that she loves the aptly named Nero, if you know anything about ancient Roman history, she senses something is wrong. And that something involves the ghost who makes Samuel’s condition worse, and yet different, as s/he tries to tell the story of his/her death.
There are many unexpected twists and turns in Chance’s novel. The three main characters (and it can’t really be considered a love triangle for reasons that fast become obvious) – Elena, Samuel, and Nero – are vivid in their personalities and their motivations. The supporting characters – servants and ghosts and family – are just as vivid and intriguing. I would have read a book about any one of them. It really is the characters who make the story, and the story is incredibly well made.
(I received a copy of THE VISITANT from NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)