Thank-you to NetGalley and Bookouture for my advanced reading edition of this novel. For a full synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.
This novel tells the story of a Ming Vase (imperial blue and white ceramic dating from the Ming period circa 1426-35) that has been passed down through the generations of one family. The vase enters the family of Niccolò de’ Conti during his expedition to China. The vase is painted with a dragon: a symbol of good luck. As the vase is passed down to Niccolò’s daughter Maria de’ Conti and the subsequent generations of her family the reader is given the sense that the vase does seem to be passing on a measure of good luck to its recipients.
This novel is separated into many parts, both past and present. The reader is first introduced to the modern day character, Miranda, who is a single mother to a fifteen year old daughter. It is evident from the first that money is scarce and that Miranda struggles to keep her head above water. She is trying to start her own knitting business and she works two days a week at a local book store, owned by her friend Jeremy. It is at this bookstore that Miranda meets the charming antiques dealer, Charles. We follow the relationship between Miranda and Charles whilst knowing very little about how Miranda is linked to Maria de’ Conti…except for the dusty old vase sitting in Miranda’s hallway.
Maria lives with her father and brother in Venice, where she meets a German merchant named Peter Haas. In my opinion this is the most exciting part of the book, as Maria must go through many travails before she is able to be with Peter. The two eventually move to Bruges to start their new life together. This is the beginning of a line of successful traders and business owners that span for centuries. Throughout the course of the novel we are briefly introduced to each generation to see how Maria’s descendants are faring. The Ming vase has been passed down through the female line and is subsequently in the possession of the Kaerel family. They own a successful business in the Netherlands with a focus upon ceramics.
Overall I found that the third person perspective of this novel, paired with the very concise descriptions of the lives of the historic characters, meant that I was unable to form an emotional attachment to Maria’s descendants. The time frame moves along so fast that it read like a fleshed out version of a family tree instead of a novel. The reader is kept at a distance from the characters, which I found to be disappointing. Once Miranda realizes the value of the vase (about two thirds of the way through the novel) things once again become more exciting, however the rest of the novel is pretty non-descript.
A nice aspect of the novel is that Miranda travels to Venice at the end and visits the same places that Maria walked six hundred years previously. This gave a sense of closure, with things coming full circle from the start of the novel. I just wish that the historic parts of the novel were more detailed in order to heighten the link between Maria and Miranda. There is a mere thread between them and I feel as though making the family members that tie them together much more vivid and authentic would have strengthened this bond. I did enjoy this novel, however I will say that the character development is sadly lacking.