The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

8/10 A tragedy waiting to happen masquerading as a farce where revenge conquers all.

As you may have guessed The Serpent of Venice is set in Venice and mixes characters from three of Shakespeare’s plays: The Merchant of Venice, Othello and King Lear. The main character though is a Fool called Pocket, who is a character of the author’s earlier book called Fool. There is a slight crossover between this book and Fool but there is enough exposition in this book that it will not matter if you read Fool before or after the Serpent of Venice.

Pocket is in Venice to stop the formation of a crusade by appealing to the Doge and the Senate that this would be wrong. Unfortunately along with meddling with the romantic life of one of the Senators daughters (he helped Desdemona marry Othello) Pocket is also caught up in a plot of intrigue and murder. I found Pocket to be an interesting character, although he dresses in the motley of a fool and appears to be a court jester he is too smart for his own good, always letting his mouth run before him and yet for all his uncouthness and bawdiness he is fairly engaging as well.

So with the enigmatic (or so he thinks) Pocket taking advantage of the situations he finds himself in, what is left for the other characters? Characters that can be classed as friends of Pocket seem to come out quite well as they tend to be manipulated by Pocket. Some characters tend to be one dimensional, acting how you would expect them to act with a singular motivation, but this does keep the plot moving and in itself can be entertaining. There is no doubt that Iago as the villain of the piece has some of the best lines as he plots and manipulates those around him whilst sinking deeper into insanity.

As the title of this book is The Serpent of Venice, I should mention the Serpent, who Pocket names Vivian. Vivian helps and torments Pocket on his mission to save himself, his friends and Venice. Monstrous and yet kind there are depths to her which make her quite intriguing.

For all the comic moments this is a tragedy waiting to happen masquerading as a farce where revenge conquers all. There are lessons to be learned such as hypocrisy knows no bounds, that what works for one, doesn't work for all. Especially when the rules you think should work for you get twisted around. For a comedy the ending is a grand denouement like no other, which means like some Shakespeare plays “all’s well that ends well”. I found that this book was very cleverly written but may not be to all tastes.

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