The best historical fiction set in Venice, Italy

Why am I passionate about this?

As an author of a dual-timeline thriller series set in Venice in the present-day and 16th century, I’ve spent countless hours researching the world’s most mesmerizing city. I’ve been there three times, including on a research trip. I’ve worked with historians and experts on various aspects and have explored the ancient streets and buildings first-hand. I’ve also read dozens of books set in Venice.


I wrote...

The Prisoner of Paradise

By Rob Samborn,

Book cover of The Prisoner of Paradise

What is my book about?

The Prisoner of Paradise is a dual-timeline thriller about Nick & Julia O'Connor, an American couple who travel to Venice, Italy on vacation. After a head injury, Nick comes to believe he can hear a woman speaking to him from Tintoretto's 'Paradise,' located in the Doge's Palace. Though Julia thinks he's suffering from delusions, Nick is adamant the voice was real. He believes it belongs to Isabella Scalfini, a woman who was murdered in 1589. 

On a quest to learn the truth, Nick discovers an ancient religious order that has developed a method of extracting people's souls from their bodies. They imprison those souls in Paradise--the world's largest oil painting--and claim that the thousands of people in it are all evil.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Death in Venice

Rob Samborn Why did I love this book?

There are so many amazing books set in Venice, but no list is complete without Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. It’s a literary classic from 1912 that not only stands the test of time, it exceeds the hype. Death in Venice follows Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author who travels to Venice in search of inspiration. Instead, he finds obsession. Death in Venice is erotic and dark, but what I love most about this book is how it captures the city’s bewitching personality. 

By Thomas Mann, Stanley Appelbaum (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death in Venice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most famous literary works of the 20th century, the novella "Death in Venice" embodies themes that preoccupied Thomas Mann (1875–1955) in much of his work; the duality of art and life, the presence of death and disintegration in the midst of existence, the connection between love and suffering, and the conflict between the artist and his inner self. Mann's handling of these concerns in this story of a middle-aged German writer, torn by his passion for a Polish youth met on holiday in Venice, resulted in a work of great psychological intensity and tragic power. It is…


Book cover of Cry to Heaven

Rob Samborn Why did I love this book?

There’s a reason why so many books set in Venice revolve around death, heaven (aka Paradise), mystery, and love lost & found. There’s a story lying in wait around every alley corner, under every bridge, and at the bottom of every canal. It’s no surprise that Anne Rice, the queen of Vampire lit, set Cry to Heaven in Venice. Her novel is impeccably researched and written, bringing to life the castriti of the 18th century—men who were castrated to become sopranos for the opera houses and royal courts. Beneath the decadence of the surface of Anne Rice’s Venice lies a dark underbelly.

By Anne Rice,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cry to Heaven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a sweeping saga of music and vengeance, the acclaimed author of The Vampire Chronicles draws readers into eighteenth-century Italy, bringing to life the decadence beneath the shimmering surface of Venice, the wild frivolity of Naples, and the magnetic terror of its shadow, Vesuvius. This is the story of the castrati, the exquisite and otherworldly sopranos whose graceful bodies and glorious voices win the adulation of royal courts and grand opera houses throughout Europe. These men are revered as idols—and, at the same time, scorned for all they are not.
 
Praise for Anne Rice and Cry to Heaven
 
“Daring and…


Book cover of The Venetian Bargain

Rob Samborn Why did I love this book?

While not as famous as Thomas Mann or Anne Rice, Marina Fiorato well deserves her place on this list with The Venetian Bargain. It’s another superbly researched and beautifully written piece of historical fiction set in 1576 during the plague. Grounded in fact, it follows a young Turkish girl, scorned in her homeland, who sneaks aboard a boat bound for Venice. She soon discovers the ship's illicit cargo in the hold—and the sultan’s horrific plan—a man infected with bubonic plague. The man infects the entire city within days. This book is much more than a historical account. It’s a gripping story with compelling characters. What’s more, much of what the world has gone through with Covid-19, from masks to quarantine, was invented by the Venetians and it's covered in The Venetian Bargain through the eyes of wonderful characters.

By Marina Fiorato,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Venetian Bargain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Venice, 1576. Five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship steals unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man, more dead than alive, disembarks and staggers into Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from Constantinople. Within days the city is infected with bubonic plague―and the Turkish Sultan has his revenge.

But the ship also holds a secret stowaway―Feyra, a young and beautiful harem doctor fleeing a future as the Sultan's concubine. Only her wits and medical knowledge keep her alive as the plague ravages Venice.

In despair, the…


Book cover of The Painter's Apprentice

Rob Samborn Why did I love this book?

Laura Morelli’s debut novel is another piece of historical fiction set during a period of plague. The research here also shines through, but the characters are the real stars. The Painter’s Apprentice follows a young girl whose father works with gilded gold leaves. As this artform begins to fall out of fashion and newer painting techniques become favored by the city’s elite, she’s sent off to live with a renowned painter as his apprentice. All seems well in the beginning, until she falls in love with the Moor servant and bubonic plague strikes the city.

By Laura Morelli,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Painter's Apprentice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Would you rather sacrifice your livelihood, your lover, or your life?

When the Black Death comes knocking on your door, you'd better decide quickly.

ERIC HOFFER GRAND PRIZE FINALIST

EDITOR'S CHOICE, HISTORICAL NOVELS REVIEW

Venice, 1510. Maria Bartolini wants nothing more than to carry on her father’s legacy as a master gilder. Instead, her father has sent her away from the only home she’s ever known to train as an apprentice to Master Trevisan, a renowned painter.

Maria arranges to leave the painter’s workshop to return to her family workshop and to a secret lover waiting for her back home.…


Book cover of The Four Horsemen: A Novel

Rob Samborn Why did I love this book?

The Four Horsemen is Gregory Dowling’s follow-up to his book Ascension. Set in the 1700s, it’s a thriller/mystery that follows a tour guide (yes, they had them back then) who is recruited into a secret police of sorts. They need him to investigate the death of an agent, which is connected to a secret society called The Four Horsemen. Forced to go on the run, the book delves into the back alleys, canals, and island of Venice. Another wonderfully researched book that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

By Gregory Dowling,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Four Horsemen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After saving the Venetian Republic in Ascension, reluctant spy Alvise Marangon returns in this second adventure, played out once again in the carnivalesque atmosphere of eighteenth-century Venice.

After Alvise is arrested in a tavern brawl, he is summoned to meet the Missier Grande, head of the city's powerful secret service. Rather than being expelled from the city, he is coerced into a top-secret investigation of the mysterious death of one of the service's agents. This death seems to be connected with a mysterious secret society - The Four Horsemen - whose roots go back to the fall of Constantinople, or…


You might also like...

A Cursed Son

By Day Leitao,

Book cover of A Cursed Son

Day Leitao

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Romantic & sexy dreams link a false princess to a dangerous, disgraced fae prince in this fun, steamy enemies-to-lovers romantasy. As a royal decoy, trained to replace the Krastel princess even in a political marriage, Astra’s life is not her own. With a duty like that, how can she dream about love?

And yet she knows she has a kindred soul. She can feel his presence every night, surrounding her with his warmth. But ice-cold reality crashes in when Astra’s carriage is attacked by the Crystal Court’s disgraced prince. It turns out that he is the man in her dreams.…

A Cursed Son

By Day Leitao,

What is this book about?

Romantic & sexy dreams link a false princess to a dangerous, disgraced fae prince in this fun, steamy enemies-to-lovers romantasy.

In her dreams, he envelops her in love. In real life, he imprisons her in ice.

Assassin, liar, impersonator-dreamer.

As a royal decoy, trained to replace the Krastel princess even in a political marriage, Astra's life is not her own. With a duty like that, how can she dream about love?

And yet she knows she has a kindred soul. She can feel his presence every night, holding her in his arms, surrounding her with his warmth.

But ice-cold reality…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in plagues, Venice, and murder?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about plagues, Venice, and murder.

Plagues Explore 50 books about plagues
Venice Explore 71 books about Venice
Murder Explore 961 books about murder