Fools' gold by Philippa Gregory
Order of Darkness, bk 3. Simon and Schuster, 2014. ISBN
(Age 14+) Recommended. Historical. Counterfeiting. Philosopher's stone. Luca's master directs him to go to Venice to investigate a gold coin counterfeiting scheme. Together with his companions Isolde, Ishraq, Frieze and Brother Peter, they arrive in Venice at Carnival time. The city is aglow with masked revellers and speculators are frantically buying up gold coins. Isolde's brother has set men on her trail and Venice has its own laws that make it a dangerous place to be. When the group meet the Alchemist and discover that he plans to create the Philosopher's Stone and with the flood of gold coins appearing in Venice, it looks as if there is even more danger than they had imagined.
In this, the third in the Order of Darkness series, following Changeling and Stormbringers, once again provides an impeccable and fascinating glimpse into history. Her descriptions of Venice, its canals, palaces and churches and the celebrations of the Carnival provide a beguiling background to the mystery surrounding the appearance of gold coins into the financial world of the traders. The Alchemist and his assistant are strange figures and their laboratory and what is in it make for an gripping insight into the Middle Ages belief that ordinary objects could be turned into gold and that the Philosopher's Stone could give immortality.
The romantic interest between Isolde and Luca is ramped up in this book although both seem to realise that their circumstances will make their love for each other difficult to sustain in the world they live in. Luca is the son of a farmer who has been taken into slavery on the galleys, and is also bound to the Church, while Isolde is a lady of quality.
With a website to support the series and an author note at the end of the novel about Medieval Venice, the role of Jewish moneylenders and alchemy, readers will have much historical information to feast on.