Ever since Pope Alexander Borgia’s son, the Duke of Gandia was murdered, the Courtesan Damiata has lived in fear. As his lover, she knows that the Pope suspects that she had betrayed his whereabouts to his enemies and he is not a man to cross. So when she is arrested along with her son and taken to the Pope’s palace she fears the worst.
While the Pope would like nothing better than to throw her into a cell he instead sends her across Italy to investigate the murder of his beloved son. With her son a hostage, Damiata knows she has no choice but to find the truth.
Traveling across a war torn Italy, she finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between the Pope’s son, the Duke of Valentino and the leaders of the Condottieri.
These mercenary armies are bringing terror and despair to Italy and they are intent on maintaining their positions but the Duke is equally determined to destroy their power and build a new Italy.
In the midst of this murky and dangerous situation, Damiata enlists the help of a young Florentine diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli.
With the help of the Duke’s Military engineer, Leonardo di Vinci they must investigate a series of gruesome murders that involves witches, sex, some of the most powerful men in Italy and a deranged killer who seems to take delight in taunting them.
Can Leonardo’s new science of observation and Niccolo’s ‘science of men’ help unravel the mystery and bring the killer to justice?
I have to say that when I first received this book to review that I wasn’t that hopeful. It takes a brave author to write a book that includes such famous characters as Di Vinci and Machiavelli, to then package them as some sort of ‘crime fighting duo’ is even braver!
I decided to give it a go and I’m glad to say it was worth it. The characters are well written and the author quite sensibly uses Leonardo sparingly. It would have been quite easy to turn him into a sort of Sherlock Holmes character but he comes across as a little mad, bursting with ideas and obsessed with measuring the world, a little how I imagine he really was like.
The author is also clever in writing Machiavelli at the beginning of his career. By writing him as a penniless diplomat he can pretty much write him as he likes. It is interesting to read as Machiavelli struggles to delve into the mind of the killer and also has to deal with the men of power that he slowly develops the ideas that will form his most famous work ‘The Prince’.
The book has two main narrators, Damiata tells her story and then at about halfway though the book Machiavelli takes over, this leads to my only real gripe with the book.
The pace of the story is a little on the slow side and just as you get used to the narration style of Damiata it changes to Machiavelli who narrates in a completely different style, this causes the book to sag in the middle as you try to get used to the the new style.
To be honest this is a minor gripe because the story is gripping enough for you to overcome it and the author really captures the violence and chaos 16th century Italy and the murder mystery is well enough written to keep you guessing to the culprit almost to the end of the book.
If you are looking for something different in your His-Fic reading then I can recommend the Malice of Fortune.
About the Author
Michael Ennis is the New York Times best selling author of the historical thriller The Malice of Fortune, published in the United States by Doubleday in September 2012, and internationally in twelve countries to date. His previous international best-selling historical novels are Byzantium and Duchess of Milan. He earned his degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a former John D. Rockefeller III Foundation Fellow. His non-fiction writing, on subjects ranging from military preparedness and national politics to art and architecture, has won several national awards, been included in the curriculum of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and has been published in a number of books and anthologies as well as magazines ranging from Esquire and Texas Monthly to I.D., ARTnews, and Architectural Digest.
The Malice of Fortune is published today (14/03/13)