Sunday 19 February 2017

The Malice of Fortune

Finished February 13
The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis

This historical novel takes us to Italy in the early sixteenth century, where it enters the intrigue of the papal court of Pope Alexander and the military actions of his son Duke Valentino. The historical events are real and the historical characters here really took the actions that they take here. It is the conversations, inner thoughts, and motivations that Ennis creates to explain them that make this history come to life. The three main historical figures this novel follows are the beautiful Damiata, the mistress of the Pope's younger son Juan, who is murdered one night on his way to see her; Niccolo Machiavelli, a young Florentine secretary serving as emissary from that city to Duke Valentino in negotiations, but with limited powers; and Leonardo da Vinci, inventor of many devices, scientific investigator, and, for a time, a follower of Valentino.
Machiavelli, of course, goes on to write the Prince, largely based on the actions of Valentino as he observed them.
This story is told in three parts, with the first part being Damiata's letters to her young son, which she entrusts to Machiavelli to give to him when he is older and can understand, and which she hopes explains her role in history to her son. The next two parts are by Machiavelli and tell of the events from where Damiata's leave off. The novel is structured as a collection sent to Francesco Guicciardini by Machiavelli as material helpful to his work History of Italy which was begun in 1537.
The author's note at the end tells us what he drew from in research to create this story, and what he added to the documented history of these people and events.
The book is lively and fascinating, with intrigue, murder (sometimes most gruesome), and depth of character. History is come alive here.
Like Machiavelli, we are never quite sure who to trust, but things become clearer as the plot moves forward.

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