Born in poverty and raised in a squalid orphanage, Phaedra’s life transforms completely when her identity as a prince’s illegitimate daughter is revealed, vaunting her into the lap of luxury. But she has a long, tough path to tread still before she will reach her happy ending.
I really, really love the crazy bloody bodice rippers of the 1970s and 80s. They are always wild and adventurous, often with a strong historical grounding, and take you careening through the kind of heroine’s journey that leave you with a skull-splitting book hangover. So when I saw a reviewer describe Zanzara as 650 pages of WTF, of course I ran full steam ahead in its direction.
Reader, that reviewer was right. Crammed into this yellowing tome are a heroine with a split personality, a stolen fortune, 19th-century Sicilian geopolitics, an erotic education obtained in a brothel, slavery, bellydancing, and more. Though we start off a little slowly, I was soon completely absorbed in Phaedra’s trials and tribulations. The characters somehow manage to be almost vividly cartoonish yet completely sympathetic.
The structure of the book is a little odd though, throwing us back and forth in time with copious flashbacks and detours into the backstories of many a side character. All that back and forth made me lose momentum more than once, which is a frustrating thing in such a dense book. Also, the editing leaves something to be desired, considering the number of misspellings that made it to print – and this coming from a notoriously bad speller like me!