Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Malice of Fortune

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis
purchased at bookstore
Description from Goodreads:
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.

My Take:
 The subject matter and the various rave review I read contributed to my desire to read The Malice of Fortune. The cover is just beautiful as well. The book starts with Damiata's narrative and I was completely drawn into her story. When the switch to Machiavelli's narrative was made, I was a bit concerned, but gamely went ahead. There was a brief moment when I became worried that I would be greatly disappointed, but then it passed and I was caught up in the story again and had to keep reading until I had finished.

I enjoyed the way everything unfolds gradually and I was kept guessing for much of the book. I did figure out who the serial killer was before the big reveal, but considering the historical period and the events that were ongoing during the story, it could have been any number of people. The book is filled with violence and brutality, much like the time period. The Borgias are a fascinating, if horrifying and frightening family to read about. Ennis does a nice job presenting all the historical and political figures that play an important role in the Italy of the time. I have to admit that I often consulted Wikipedia to brush up on my history of the period. The condottieri were not very familiar to me, and I had to revisit the city-states of Italy, but I now feel like I have some understanding. 

I have to confess that I have avoided reading The Prince by Machiavelli because I didn't care for the so-called ideal Prince he describes. Now I will have a stronger revulsion of this ideal but an interest in reading more about the life of Niccolo Machiavelli. I also want to read his Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy

I found The Malice of Fortune to be quite a frightening story of a serial killer with too much power and money and the people trying to discover his identity and stop his killing. There are so many smaller stories within the big overarching story of the killer, though, that it seems silly to try to say that it is only about that. It is also about the nature of men in general and the individual person.  I had not realized that the idea of Fortuna was still so prevalent in Renaissance Italy, but that is another thing I'd like to read more about.  I really enjoyed reading this book and will be recommending it. 

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