Book review: Iago by David Snodin

Three of five stars

Remember what happened at the end of Othello? Yeah, me neither. At least, not in great detail. But that’s all right, because the events of Shakespeare’s tragedy are only tangentially important, in the sense that they provide the backdrop and impetus for the events in this novel.

In the aftermath of the murder of Desdemona and her husband Othello (yes, I know that’s not what happened in the play….just go with it), Iago, their accused murderer, is the subject of a vast and wide-ranging manhunt throughout Cyprus and Italy. Annibale Malipiero, the Chief Inquisitor of Venice, is especially interested in questioning Iago about the dual murder, and goes about it in a circuitous fashion.

Gentile Stornello, the teenage son of a rival Venetian household and a cousin to Desdemona, is accused of murder. He is arrested and brought to the fearsome Venetian prison, where he is tortured and questioned by Malipiero, among others, and thrown into a cell with a mysterious prisoner who refuses to speak to him for days, perhaps weeks. Time is fluid in prison, and poor Gentile is never really sure how long he’s been incarcerated. Eventually, however, the mysterious prisoner gives up his silence, and is revealed as Iago himself. Malipiero enlists young Stornello as his proxy, offering the young man his freedom and a dismissal of charges if he can discover the truth of the murder from Iago. And, after an engineered escape from prison and their subsequent flight across the length and breadth of Italy, Gentile endeavors to do precisely that.

David Snodin constructs his story brick by brick, carefully building upon this event and that occurrence, layer by intriguing layer, leading the reader down a certain path with startling surprises around every corner. It’s slow going at first, but the pace picked up about midway through, and the writing itself is lovely. I loved the rich period detail. I didn’t love the ample gore and violence, but accepted it as a necessary evil, er, plot device. Overall, this was a satisfying read, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare or historical novels.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program for the opportunity to read this book.

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