book review, historical fiction

Review: The Orphan’s Song by Lauren Kate

The Orphan’s Song by Lauren Kate transports the reader to dazzling, romantic, and beautiful 18th century Venice. Violetta is an orphan at the Incurables, a hospital and orphanage where girls are raised in the musical arts to eventually perform in the prestigious Coro (where once sworn, a girl must never sing outside its walls.) From the boys section of the Incurables, Violetto meets Mino–a self-taught violinst. What Mino does not know, however, is that Violetta witnessed his mother place him on the wheel to be given to the orphanage. Violetta and Mino meet on the roof of the Incurables Hospital, writing and playing music together and sharing their dreams. Their relationship deepens when Violetta reveals the song Mino’s mother sang to him when she gave him up (unbeknowst to Mino.) It is this hauntingly beautiful and myserious song that will bind Violetta and Mino for years to come.
As they grow into adulthood and diverge down different paths, Violetta finds success both inside the Coro and in the forbidden world outside of the Incurables’ walls. Meanwhile, Mino searches for his mother while also trying to get on his feet after leaving the Orphanage. Lauren Kate expertly draws out the tension of if and when Mino and Violetta will reunite–crafting near misses and eventually pulling them both to the casino La Sirena.
I found the beginning of The Orphan’s Song to be a bit too YA-feeling in that the initial romance seemed overly dramatic and rushed. However, my skeptisim was quelled as I read on. I didn’t know much about 18th century Venice, but it seems magical based on Kate’s descriptions of not only the architecture and canals, but also of the endless Carnaveles and night life–all hidden behind masks, beauty marks, and pure decadence. Although Violetta and Mino are pulled apart early in the novel, they are slowly but surely drawn back together as their lives intertwine in unexpected ways that will keep the reader guessing.
It has been a while since I have felt truly transported to a time and place via book, and I’m happy to report that The Orphan’s Song was able to achieve that for me. I’d often find myself lost in the winding walkways of Venice during Carnavele while on the bus or train.
I haven’t read anything else by Lauren Kate, but a quick search showed that she has previously written YA, so that would explain why the beginning of the novel felt very much in that genre. If you can get over that hump, I think you’ll be charmed despite the somewhat conveniently wrapped up ending.

Grade: A-

The Orphan’s Song will be released in the US on June 25, 2019