The best historical fiction set in Venice, Italy

Rob Samborn Author Of The Prisoner of Paradise
By Rob Samborn

The Books I Picked & Why

Death in Venice

By Thomas Mann, Stanley Appelbaum

Book cover of Death in Venice

Why 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. 

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Cry to Heaven

By Anne Rice

Book cover of Cry to Heaven

Why 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.

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The Venetian Bargain

By Marina Fiorato

Book cover of The Venetian Bargain

Why 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.

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The Painter's Apprentice: A Novel of 16th-Century Venice

By Laura Morelli

Book cover of The Painter's Apprentice: A Novel of 16th-Century Venice

Why 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.

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The Four Horsemen: A Novel

By Gregory Dowling

Book cover of The Four Horsemen: A Novel

Why 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.

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