The book is character led and is narrated by five different characters, each with their own voice, and, in my particular oversized paperback copy, with slightly different text. Each new 'speaker' has their name as a header, and the sections are mostly short - very few extend over more than 3 pages. There is no danger of muddling up the characters, they are very distinctive.
Starting in the last eighteenth century in Venice and Peru, the story quickly fast tracks to the early nineteenth century where most of the events take place.
Minguillo Fasan - eldest son of the Comte Fasan, who resides in the Palazzo Espagnol in Venice. Minguillo is manipulative, spiteful, power-hungry and a bully. These are his better qualities, and he would probably thank you for the compliment if you were to call him these things. His main hobbies include collecting books bound in human skin (hence the title) and getting rid of his sisters, who are favoured by their father and a threat to his inheritance. Minguillo speaks eloquently and comes across as well-read and intelligent, even if he is slightly presumptive as to assume he has the reader onside.
Marcella Fasan - younger sister of Minguillo, she has been bullied by him from an early age, her parents unable, or unwilling, to protect her. She accepted this as someone who knew no different and seemed to have an inner strength that got her through. She is artistic and kind, and her 'voice' in the pages shows this, although is some respects I thought she was a little bit too good to be true and was probably the weakest character.
Gianni delle Boccole - valet to Comte Fasan and later to his son. Gianni is semi-literate and thus his writing is strewn with spelling and grammatical errors, which could annoy some readers, for example words are often spelt phonetically. I certainly struggled with his prose at times, and when you 'hear' his voice in your head, he doesn't sound particularly Venetian, more a Yorkshireman! It is a style I had to get used to. Gianni sees himself as a kind of unofficial guardian to Marcella, keeping an eye out for her, and attempting to thwart Minguillo's attempts to injure her.
Doctor Santo Aldobrandini - an impoverished Venetian doctor, he was called to the Palazzo Espagnol to attend to an 'accidental' death and spies Marcella and falls in love. He is not always in Venice, he travels around serving Napoleon and learning his craft to further be of assistance to Marcella, but he keeps abreast of activities in Venice courtesy of Gianni.
Sor Loreta - a Peruvian nun at Santa Catalina Convent in Arequipa, who claims to have an invisible stigmata, and is convinced she is destined for sainthood.
I ordered this book whilst browsing Amazon one day as the blurb said it featured Venice, Italy and Arequipa, Peru. I have visited both these cities in the last few years, and found them both lovely so was keen to see how they would be linked in a book. Although I must admit to finding the title slightly off-putting, and I was concerned if I would really like it.