Book review: Catherine Doyle’s “Vendetta”

Ever since I changed jobs — and tried to venture into actual fiction/novel writing — I haven’t had as much time to keep my ear close to the ground to keep track of what’s going on in the publishing world. I mean sure, big thing’s like Harper Lee’s new novel I get to hear about because that’s hard to ignore, but the smaller stuff mostly pass me by now.

Which is why it’s a good thing that the good people from Scholastic have been nice enough to still keep me in the loop. They sent me an email some time ago about Vendettathe debut YA novel of 24-year-old Irishwoman Catherine Doyle. And you know what? It seems like they really knew what I was into just basing from the book’s synopsis:

“When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families.”

C’mon. A hot Italian bad boy? If you gave me that along with a lifetime supply of French fries I’d willingly give you my firstborn. My second-born, even. And while I tempered my expectations – it’s still a YA novel, even if it did come from the same publisher that brought us Numbers – I thought I would be getting into some hot Italian bad boy action. So did I?

vendetta-by-catherine-doyleLike the snippet from earlier laid out, Nicoli is a bad boy involved in the criminal underworld. And it’s one particular infamous part of the criminal underworld too – the Mafia itself, La Cosa Nostra.  Nicoli and his family exist within the Mafia as some sort of police authority, taking care of criminal elements that step out of line.

As the novel progresses and Nicoli and Sophie find themselves drawn irresistibly towards each other, Sophie finds secrets about her own family that not only threaten to rip her world apart, but could pit her against Nicoli’s dangerous family. When push come to shove, which side will Sophie choose?

If you look at the different books that Chicken House publishes – from Rachel Ward to James Dashner to Cornelia Funke – you know that they’re not averse to having more than a little grit to their books. At the start of the book, Sophie’s family problems don’t stem from a nebulous totalitarian government that found itself in power after a post-apocalyptic event, but rather from a very real crime that her father committed. The home life that Catherine Doyle describes in the book had that really nice blend of reality and melodrama that made it readable for me,

The growing relationship with Nicoli, however, didn’t grip me as much as I wanted it to. This is really more of a personal thing rather than anything wrong with the book. It seems all I’ve been reading lately has been straight love stories like this one and I’ve just been craving for something a little different at the moment.

Objectively, the relationship and how it’s built up works just as well as any YA novel. Nicoli even succeeds at being a “bad boy” without actually being a bad boy; there’s none of the abusive behaviour that you find in books like Beautiful Disaster. Nicoli doesn’t come off as controlling, and Sophie isn’t a pushover either. And I found it hilarious that she didn’t care a bit about Romeo and Juliet.

spoiler-alert

But what really kept me moving forward until I actually finished the book was when Sophie got roofied by Robbie Stenson at Millie’s party. I felt dread in the pit of my stomach during the whole ordeal, and heaved a sigh of relief when Sophie finally got rescued. And I even found myself putting the book down for a few minutes after Robbie gets what’s coming to him from Nicoli and his brother Luca.

See, I like to think that if this were to happen to someone i loved, I would pretty much do the same thing that Nicoli and Luca do in the book. Before the actual scene, I was waiting for it to happen and even felt a little giddy about what would be done to him. But when Doyle does get to it, I felt myself feeling a little queasy. In a good way. Because as much as we would like to see people like Robbie Stenson be punished like that, it’s quite a different thing to actually witness it being done. I thought Doyle did a great job of conveying Sophie’s horror and making me feel the same things as well.

The ending, quite honestly, was what I expected from the book. There’s a love triangle set up, a conflict within Sophie’s own family that she’ll probably have to grapple with in the following books, as well as a choice of whether she can live with this kind of life around her. If Doyle handles the rest of these things with as much skill as she handled the roofie and its aftermath, then sign me up to read the next ones in the series.

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