Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: The Book of Unholy Mischief

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark was not at all what I expected. Maybe it was the title - evocative of magic - or maybe it was the setting - 15th c. Venice, rich with intrigue and spice - but I definitely thought this was going to be a DaVinci Code-esque knock-off thriller. Fortunately, it was something I generally enjoy much more - an ode to food, cooked well, and eaten with gusto.
It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist's dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the long-buried secrets scrawled in its pages and where it could possibly be hidden within the labyrinthine city. But while those who seek the book will stop at nothing to get it, those who know will die to protect it.

As a storm of intrigue and desire circles the republic, Luciano, a penniless orphan with a quick wit and an even faster hand, is plucked up by an illustrious chef and hired, for reasons he cannot yet begin to understand, as an apprentice in the palace kitchen. There, in the lavish home of the most powerful man in Venice, he is initiated into the chef's rich and aromatic world, with all its seductive ingredients and secrets.

Luciano's loyalty to his street friends and the passion he holds for a convent girl named Francesca remain, but it is not long before he, too, is caught up in the madness. After he witnesses a shocking murder in the Palace dining room, he realizes that nothing is as it seems and that no one, not even those he's come to rely on most, can be trusted. Armed with a precocious mind and an insatiable curiosity, Luciano embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth.
Truth be told, the plot of this book left a bit to be desired. It lagged a bit and the ending slumped off rather than truly wrapping the story up. The story is secondary to Newmark's descriptions of the lavish dinner parties and political intrigue at the Doge's palace. But for those who will read a story just to enjoy the atmosphere, this is a really charming book.

And in case you haven't been to Venice, here's a photo of the palace (via Wikipedia) to set the mood:

Buy The Book of Unholy Mischief on Amazon.

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotions for including me in this book tour.

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