THE POISON KEEPER
BY DEBORAH SWIFT
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Paperback & eBook; 406 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Aqua Tofana – One drop to heal. Three drops to kill.
Giulia Tofana longs for more responsibility in her mother’s apothecary business, but Mamma has always been secretive and refuses to tell Giulia the hidden keys to her success. When Mamma is arrested for the poisoning of the powerful Duke de Verdi, Giulia is shocked to uncover the darker side of her trade.
Giulia must run for her life, and escapes to Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, to the home of her Aunt Isabetta, a famous courtesan. But when Giulia hears that her mother has been executed, and the cruel manner of her death, she swears she will wreak revenge on the Duke de Verdi.
The trouble is, Naples is in the grip of Domenico, the Duke’s brother, who controls the city with the ‘Camorra’, the mafia. Worse, her Aunt Isabetta, under Domenico’s thrall, insists that she should be consort to him – the brother of the man she has vowed to kill.
Based on the legendary life of Italian poisoner Giulia Tofana, this is a story of hidden family secrets, and how even the darkest desires can be vanquished by courage and love.
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Giulia d'Adamo wants nothing more than to learn her mother's craft as an apothecary in 1633 Palermo. However, Giulia's mother is overly cautious when it comes to training Giulia in anything more than the kitchen arts since the herbs she works with not only have the power to heal, but the power to harm. Before her mother is able to teach her anything more, Giulia's mother is accused and killed for supplying the poison to the wife of the Duke de Verdi in an attempt to kill the abusive and treacherous Duke. Giulia flees to Naples to live with her Aunt Isabetta, a courtesan. Giulia must take up the trade in order to earn her keep. However, the Duke di Verdi's brother, Domenico, runs Naples and the Camorra, a mafia to control and extort the citizens of the town and the Duke di Verdi is still looking for Giulia in connection to her mother. Giulia decides to seek retribution on her own and supplies the wife of the equally villainous Domenico with the poison necessary to kill him. Other women soon begin to come to Giulia with similar issues and word spreads of Giulia's talent. With Domenico's death, the Duke di Verdi knows who must be responsible and begins to close in on her.
Based on the life of Giulia Tofana, The Poison Keeper weaves a dangerous tale of how and why Giulia Tofana became known as the most notorious and effective poisoners of her time. At first, Giulia is difficult to like. She is defiant and does not understand the intricacies of her mother's business. However, she is forced to grow up quickly after her mother's death and must learn that society does not treat everyone fairly, especially women. With vibrant detail, the city, clothing and buildings of Renaissance Italy come alive. I loved learning about herbs and poisons and the power they hold alongside Giulia. I also enjoyed the relationships that Giulia was able to build with other women that she helped and how they eventually rallied her effectively when the Duke di Verdi had decided her fate. With family secrets, exciting friendships and a tumultuous political backdrop, The Poison Keeper is a fast-paced and exciting read. While there is much speculation about the life and death of the real Giulia, I'm glad that her story can continue after The Poison Keeper and I'm excited to see what she does next.
This story was received for free in return for an honest review.
Deborah Swift is the author of three previous historical novels for adults, The Lady’s Slipper, The Gilded Lily, and A Divided Inheritance, all published by Macmillan/St Martin’s Press, as well as the Highway Trilogy for teens (and anyone young at heart!). Her first novel was shortlisted for the Impress prize for new novelists.
She lives on the edge of the beautiful and literary English Lake District – a place made famous by the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.
For more information, please visit Deborah Swift’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.