[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
Last year, I read the first installment of this series, The Shadow Master. I liked it and found it really confusing at the same time. I'd say that things are a little similar here, but that knowing the works that the author plays with (Romeo & Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello...) helps in guessing a few things... and being misled when it comes to others, in a good way. I could both anticipate and still be surprised in the end.
This novel is more intricate than the first one, since it weaves the stories of the three Montecchi sisters along with those of the Shadow Master and Vincenzo, a young scribe with a strange power of making events happen differently by (re)writing them, a really powerful ability in its own right. These retellings from Shakespeare's plays—and from the tales that inspired them—were fairly interesting: close enough, yet also subtly different, with a dash of humour as well. Mostly it worked for me, although there were a few instances in which the dialogues were, oddly enough, "too" Shakespearian, and clashed slightly with the way the characters spoke in general.
The city itself felt very present, much like in the first book. The atmosphere was more magical and poetic this time, through the depiction of a Venice-like city kept afloat by the powers of four couple of mages called the Seers, facing strange creatures in its waters, a plague, the looming threat of the Ottomans (Othmen), and a shady group of assassins taking down the Council members one by one. This is mostly where things felt confusing sometimes, because a lot was at stake, and the explanation at the end behind those events was too hasty, too convenient, perhaps. This is also where I would've liked the novel to be longer, to expand more on the Seers, on how their magic worked (pretty shady as well in its own way!), and on some of the "background characters", so to speak.
However, paradoxically, the events surrounding the Shadow Master and Vincenzo, as confusing as they may seem, started shedding some light on events and characters from the first novel—especially when a certain couple was concerned. Though I may be mistaken, I have a gut feeling that the author is building something here, something far bigger than I had suspected at first: a sort of network of plots meant to collide at the very end, with the Shadow Master acting both as a hero/assassin and a storyteller, gifted with abilities that go deeper than suspected at first. I cannot deny, too, that the Shadow Master sometimes had a Fool's flavour to him (as in a Shakespearian Fool), which I don't doubt was totally on purpose. If only for that, combined to how I enjoyed the story, I shall make it a 3.5 stars, bumped to 4. I definitely hope my hunches are correct.
Note: I found some typos here and there; however, the copy I got was an ARC, therefore not the final one, and I'll assume those few defects will have been ironed out by now.