The Serpent of Venice
By Christopher Moore
Hardcover, signed first edition, 326 pages
2014, William Morrow
Let me be a little vain and talk first about the physical appearance of this book. I love it! The pages are nice and thick and the edges are a rich blue that matches the cover.
There are little red accents as well, for the chapter titles and the chorus. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the standard paperback (or hardcover) and I love special little touches like colored ink.
If you’re wondering, I purchased my copy pre-signed because I wasn’t able to make it to Moore’s event in Boston this year. But I purchased it from Mysterious Galaxy – a California based bookstore. It’s one of two stores that Moore works with to sign copies for those who can’t make events and I’m so glad I was able to get my hands on one!
The Serpent of Venice follows Pocket after his adventures in Fool. He’s off to Venice to prevent a war and befriends Othello and Desdemona while dealing with the wicked scheming of Iago and his partner in crime Montressor Brabantio. As usual Pocket is constantly trying to outwit the long list of people who wish to kill him. The book jacket describes this as “a literary satire, a dramedy mash-up rich with delights, including (but not limited to): foul plots, counterplots, true love, jealousy, murder, betrayal, revenge, codpieces, three mysterious locked boxes, a boatload of gold, a pound of flesh, occasional debauchery, and water (lots of water).” There are several familiar Shakespearean characters in this book, and of course, a ghost (there’s always a bloody ghost)!
What I liked: As usual, Christopher Moore makes me laugh. The Serpent of Venice book is set after the events in Fool (see my review for that here), so it helps to read that first, however, I think that even if you’ve never read it, you can follow what’s going on easily enough and still chuckle at all of Moore’s jokes. The witty banter between characters is very Shakespearean, though much easier to read:
“I do so prefer dancing to suffering, don’t you Nerissa?” “You speak as if one must choose one over another, but as any gentleman who has turned you around a ballroom can attest, dancing and suffering can be partners in step.”
Again, as with Fool, one doesn’t need to be well versed in Shakespeare to enjoy the book (though Moore borrows from Othello and The Merchant of Venice as well as other sources), but it does help to at least know a vague outline of the plots. Personally, I enjoyed Othello and read it somewhat recently (if within the past couple of years is considered recent…) so it was nice to see how Moore played with the characters. This time around there were very few footnotes. Instead we were treated to the Chorus, our snarky, red-inked, rhyming narrator:
“Chorus: …but even though her slave was slight, she found she was not strong enough to drag him up the ramp and into the house by herself.
“I’m not strong enough to get him up the ramp.”
Chorus: She said with great superfluity, as the narrator had only just pointed out that selfsame thing.”
And one more random quote that made me chuckle:
“…I looked for the dark shadow I had seen beneath the water before, but there were only little silver fishes, wetly doing fish things near the surface.”
What I didn’t like: I didn’t feel that The Serpent of Venice was quite as funny as Fool. I can’t quite put my finger on what was missing, but it just wasn’t as powerful as the first book, maybe because I’d already witnessed Moore’s style of Shakespeare parody. The other stylistic choice that I had a hard time getting used to was the POV switching. Fool is told from Pocket’s perspective but in The Serpent of Venice, Moore decides to add in some third person. I would have been fine with this, but he changes point of view mid-chapter. So many times we will go from third person, following Iago for instance, then there will be a switch to Pocket’s first-person view and it could be disorienting at times. I do believe most switches are broken up by the chorus or the wonderful little dragon symbol, but I would have felt better about it had each chapter stuck to one POV. But if you’re already a fan of Moore and if you’ve read Fool (or if you haven’t), you should check this book out! Again, it does contain some adult language and content, so younger readers might want to stay away. If you haven’t read any of Moore’s work, I’m not sure I would recommend starting off with Serpent simply because it is intended to be a sequel. But if this book sounds at all interesting to you, go pick up something by Moore!