Venice, 1604. When rumours of a rare and priceless diamond begin to
circulate amongst the gamblers and courtesans of the Venetian demi-monde,
the Levant Company merchant Paul Pindar becomes convinced that the
jewel is linked to the fate of his former love, Celia Lamprey. As his
obsession with the mysterious stone grows it becomes clear that there
are other, more sinister forces at play. Is the diamond real, or is it
just a trick to lure him to his ruin?
In Hickman's coincidence-heavy latest (after The Aviary Gate), Paul Pindar, a 17th-century English merchant working in Venice, is obsessed with the Sultan's Blue, a 322-carat diamond coveted by every collector in the plague-ravaged city. Pindar, broke from drinking and gambling, needs the diamond to ransom his captive love from a sultan's harem. Intertwined with his story are those of Sister Annetta, a convent novitiate who alone knows how the Sultan's Blue came to Venice, and Maryam, an acrobat charged with escorting a crippled mute and her deformed newborn (who might be a mermaid) to Venice. When Pindar learns that the Sultan's Blue will be the prize in a high-stakes card game, he desperately tries to scheme his way to the table, going against warnings from fellow traders Ambrose Smith, a covert intelligencer, and John Carew, a friend with his own secret. Though the narrative moves from Pindar to Annetta to Maryam in a frustratingly helter-skelter fashion, Hickman provides a convincing portrait of a troubled Venice that will tide readers over until the story elements click into place just in time for a series of satisfying resolutions.