In 1604 Italy, Maryam, the leader of a troupe of female tumblers, is given a glittering silver amulet showing the image of the mermaid by shady merchant Signor Bocelli, who also offers Maryam what looks to be a real mermaid. In the hope that Maryam can use it as a sideshow attraction, Bocelli tells her the mermaid is in fact a baby. In place of two legs, a single limb sticks out in front like
a web of flapping flesh. While the baby’s mother lies mute, hovering near death, Maryam notices that she has lesions around her wrists and ankles and that her legs are broken.
Traveling to the more liberal Venice and the security of the Serenissima, Maryam works to unravel the complex mystery behind her delicate mermaid baby and its mother. Meanwhile, the aging courtesan Constanza lies in her Venetian boudoir, carefully shuffling her cards. Befriending the unkempt John Carew, Constanza tries to piece together what really happened to Celia Lamprey. Celia was a concubine in the Sultan’s palace, but after her escape from Constantinople, she vanished and is presumed dead.
Paul Pindar, Celia’s one true love and heartbroken by her disappearance, falls into the arms of the seductive Constanza,
who sees an unclear reflection in the cards. When Paul learns that the great Zuanne Memmo is giving a treasured prize in a big card game, he decides to trade stake in his precious Levant Company for the Sultan’s Blue,
a great and rare jewel which is setting hearts aflutter. Although Costanza warns Paul about Memmo’s shifty dealings, Paul has set his heart on this latest wonder of the Serenissima.
The color of moonlight with a brilliance of cut, the Sultan’s Blue is rumored to have mystical properties, the stone freely giving great protection to the wearer. Hopefully it will shield Celia’s best friend, Annetta, from harm. Annetta, forced to draw on her instinctive cunning, is hiding in the shadows of a nunnery. When a handsome “monarchino” with disheveled locks and
an insolent demeanor visits as part of a wedding party, Annetta comes to know the part this enigmatic man will play in the drama. It is his connection to her small embroidered rose-pink velvet pouch which unlocks the secret whereabouts of the legendary blue diamond.
The moon refracts in silent, gleaming black ribbons of water while, in Hickman's hands, Venice comes alive like a beautiful and melancholy painting. Celia Lamprey once loved in this fabled city of pink and gold where John and Paul are eventually forced into a great game for the Sultan’s Blue, dueling it out in the back streets of the stinking city. When the diamond falls into the hands of feckless Ambrose Jones, Paul finds himself getting ever closer to Celia, the one woman who holds the secret provenance to the blue jewel as it surreptitiously passes from character to character, embroiling the lives of all who handle it.
Chance and luck are powerful in this novel where the greed of men and the kindness of strangers are as paramount as the passionate and fanciful promises of true love. The diamond remains ever-present, blue fire and blue ice together,
ever mysterious, magical and beautiful - especially for Paul Pindar, a powerful symbol for "his heart's desire" shining dazzlingly in the candlelight.