Tuesday, January 29, 2013

OH! Fickle Fortune, How We Loathe Thee!

The Malice of Fortune
Author Michael Ennis

Against a teeming canvas of Borgia politics, Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci come together to unmask an enigmatic serial killer, as we learn the secret history behind one of the most controversial works in the western canon, The Prince...When Pope Alexander dispatches a Vatican courtesan, Damiata, to the remote fortress city of Imola to learn the truth behind the murder of Juan, his most beloved illegitimate son, she cannot fail, for the scheming Borgia pope holds her own young son hostage. Once there, Damiata becomes a pawn in the political intrigues of the pope’s surviving son, the charismatic Duke Valentino, whose own life is threatened by the condottieri, a powerful cabal of mercenary warlords. Damiata suspects that the killer she seeks is one of the brutal condottierri, and as the murders multiply, her quest grows more urgent. She enlists the help of an obscure Florentine diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Valentino’s eccentric military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, who together must struggle to decipher the killer’s taunting riddles: Leonardo with his groundbreaking “science of observation” and Machiavelli with his new “science of men.” Traveling across an Italy torn apart by war, they will enter a labyrinth of ancient superstition and erotic obsession to discover at its center a new face of evil—and a truth that will shake the foundations of western civilization.

Review: Much like the Tudors, the Borgias have been overdone in recent releases of historical fiction. However, The Malice of Fortune provides a new perspective by creatively using the well-known history and incorporating it into a mystery/murder plot. By using lesser known players in the Borgia game, author Michael Ennis brings a fresh twist to a popular scheme. You certainly don't have to know the Borgia family history to read and enjoy the book, but for those readers who are familiar, you'll get more than a repeat telling. I've read several Borgia books and was pleased that I knew enough to add to my base knowledge, but wasn't bored or forced to re-read loads of already much published facts about the events. I did not need pages of background, and I think the way this book is set up, no one really would. However, some key information about the 'players' is listed in the front of the book, which is a helpful reference, but I don't think it is too difficult to keep up with the historical timeline or characters.  

For those readers who are thinking about expanding into historical fiction, this is a good one to start with because it is more palatable than most. Without upsetting the academic critics, this novel harmonizes mystery, intrigue, murder and history without becoming dry as day old toast. It's a bit of a chunker due to the packed content, but despite the average page count, The Malice of Fortune is an attention-span friendly book especially for this genre. Ennis effectively manages to maintain a brilliant balance between intellectual fiction and entertainment, which will widen the general appeal and audience. Need a quick pitch-line to help you make up your mind? Okay, here it 'tis!  A well-crafted, pre-packaged paced Three Musketeers meets The Man in the Iron Mask for the European bound traveler. A tad heavy for the beach and shorter trip, but good for a cabin getaway or longer flight.  
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*ARC provided by Doubleday courtesy of Amazon Vine

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