The Serpent of Venice: A Novel
by Christopher Moore
Cover Artist: Adam Johnson
Review by Paul Haggerty
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061779763
Date: 22 April 2014 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In a Venice that never really existed, people that never really met are thrown together in a plot that stirs together jealousies of race and class, where the rich and powerful plot war and ruin for their own greed and avarice, and the key to all its undoing rests in the hands of a fool. Or in other words, what would happen if the Merchant of Venice met Othello and the combined cast had to deal with the, for lack of a better word, hero, of Christopher Moore's Fool, who previously dished up a heap of satire in a twisted re-envisioning of the story of King Lear?
Pocket the Fool returns, but far from his native land, the enchanted isle of Britain. Pocket has been sent as emissary from (the now lamentably late) Queen Cordelia. With little to return to, the fool has made a royal pest of himself in Venice, ingratiating himself with the movers and shakers, and working to undermine all the dirty underhanded double dealings going on behind the scenes. But if there's one thing the rich hate more than anything else, it's someone keeping them from making more money. So luring Pocket to a meeting at the home of a Venician Senator, a trio of villains plots to do away the fool once and for all. It's a plot that comes perilously close to succeeding, but then, where would be the fun in that?
Naturally, our hero wins free of the deadly trap, although not before spending several intimate days shackled to a wall in a light-less flooded chamber, accompanied by what, in a superb state of denial, Pocket believes to be a mermaid. Once released, and using the fact that his enemies assume him to be dead, Pocket sets off to wreak revenge, turning the villains against one another, making use of any and all allies, and pretty much every Shakespearean trope and plot device imaginable. And always in the canals nearby lurks the titular serpent which, much to Pocket's dismay, is very much not a mermaid.
As is common with all of Christopher Moore's books, the plot is intricate, clever, irreverent, and rather profane. Pocket triumphs by wit and subterfuge while his enemies flail around with their swords trying to figure out where he's going to be. If you've read The Merchant of Venice and/or Othello, you'll be familiar enough with the characters, but don't expect the events to turn out the way you remember. While keeping the characterizations honest, Moore feels free to play fast and loose with the outcomes, resulting in a story that is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. And, as Pocket heads off into the sunset at the close of the book, one has to wonder if there's anything left of Shakespeare, that Moore hasn't skewered, for Pocket to wonder into in future installments.