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The Malice of Fortune [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Michael Ennis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 11 2012
A sweeping, intense historical thriller starring two of the great minds of Renaissance Italy: Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Based on a real historical mystery, and involving serial murder and a gruesome cat and mouse game at the highest levels of the Church -- it was the era of the infamous Borgias -- The Malice of Fortune is a delicious treat for fans of Umberto Eco, Sarah Dunant, and Elizabeth Kostova.
 
This brilliant novel is an epic tale exploring the backdrop of the most controversial work of the Italian Renaissance, The Prince. Here, Niccolò Machiavelli, the great "scientist" of human behaviour becomes, in effect, the first criminal profiler, while his contemporary and sometime colleague, the erratic genius Leonardo da Vinci, brings his observational powers to the increasingly desperate hunt for a brilliant, terrifying serial murderer. Their foil and partner is the exquisite Damiata, scholar and courtesan. All three know their quarry is someone who holds enormous power, both to tear Italy apart, and destroy each of their most beloved dreams. And every thrilling step is based on historical fact.

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Review

“A stunning work of historical fiction, and equally a page-turning murder mystery. The depth of research, the compelling characterizations, and the addictively readable storytelling all combine to produce a novel of the highest accomplishment.”
—Vincent Lam, award-winning author of Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures and The Headmaster’s Wager
 
“Intricate… rewarding… The Malice of Fortune is reminiscent of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose in that the intrigue is rich and is inextricably entwined in its world. . . . A finely wrought history but because the characters are of their time while transcending it.”
—The Denver Post
 
“In this epic novel, Ennis gives ample evidence that political and religious corruption in early-16th-century Italy makes anything vaguely analogous look like Sunnybrook Farm. . . . Permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy . . . [it] can stand shoulder to shoulder with Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, with which it is sure to be compared.”
Kirkus (starred review)
 
“A thrilling whodunit—and a pretty good primer on da Vinci’s ‘science of observation’ as well as Machiavelli’s ‘science of man.’”
Entertainment Weekly

“Ennis is an uncommonly graceful writer and a conscientious researcher… his story zips along, a pleasure.”
USA Today

 “Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli join their considerable forces in this teeming historical thriller… They make an exceptional team.”
New York Daily News
 
“Ennis bring[s] multiple layers of authenticity to his epic novel. It’s a heady mix of “The Da Vinci Code,” Borgia politics and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Think of it as CSI: Italy circa 1502, with Machiavelli as a detective and psychological profiler and da Vinci as history’s first forensic pathologist.”
CNN
 
“A novel that ranks among the best with the Italian Renaissance setting.”
San Antonio Express

“Ennis brilliantly recreates the complex politics of early 16th-century Italy in this absorbing and intelligent thriller. . . Fans of superior historical mystery writers . . . will be enthralled.”
Publishers Weekly

"A TRUE MASTERPIECE… Michael Ennis has poured the knowledge and wisdom of many lifetimes into the exquisite form of a mystery so dark, so labyrinthine.  The Malice of Fortune is stunning, terrifying, and utterly mesmerizing. I can honestly say I never fully appreciated the genius of Machiavelli, or the savagery of the Borgias, until now."
—Ann Fortier, author of Juliet
                             
“Michael Ennis bring the Renaissance alive in this tour-de-force: The Malice of Fortune dishes out a simmering stew, thick with chicanery, bloodshed, dastardly deeds, code-breaking, puzzle-solving, and a cast of characters that includes Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini, Cesare Borgia—and Damiata, the real-life courtesan whose brassiness, brains, and beauty dazzle even her employer and nemesis: the Pope.”
—Katherine Neville, author of The Eight and The Fire
 
“For readers who've been waiting all these years for the next The Name of the Rose—here it is. Michael Ennis brings a scholar’s mind and a writer’s heart to this beautifully crafted work of Renaissance intrigue that has a rare quality of feeling ancient and modern at the same time. A powerful thinking-man’s thriller.”
 —Glenn Cooper, author of Library of the Dead and Book of Souls
 
“This is a fascinating novel, filled with extraordinary, well-realized historical characters and a plot that is engrossing and wickedly clever. The Malice of Fortune is an excellent, beautifully researched, and well-written novel that has a fine, fine sense of place. It captured my attention up front and kept me turning the pages to the very end."
—Douglas Preston, co-author of The Monster of Florence
 

“With its vivid, well-defined array of characters, The Malice of Fortune captures the glorious and gritty details of Renaissance Italy in a propulsive story. Ennis has achieved a great accomplishment, historical fiction that places us right into the characters' present.”
—Matthew Pearl, author of The Monster of Florence and The Technologists

About the Author

MICHAEL ENNIS taught art history at the University of Texas, developed museum programs as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, and works as an independent curator and consultant. He has won several awards for art criticism, and written for such magazines as Esquire and Architectural Digest, on topics as diverse as business, national defense, and politics. But when people ask him what he does, he only claims to be a writer of historical fiction. His first historical novel, Byzantium, was the true story of a Viking prince exiled to the court of the Byzantine Emperor; his second, The Duchess of Milan, was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, History Book Club featured selection, had a six-figure mass market sale, and was a bestseller in Italy, where it is still selling. Michael lives in Dallas with his wife, Ellen, a television producer, and their Australian Shepherd, Zoë.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Historical Fiction Oct. 2 2012
By Jessica Strider TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Pros: good mystery, afterward explaining what's true and where he took liberties, lots of detail

Cons:

Damiata, once lover of Juan, Duke of Gandia, and mother of his illegitimate child, is accused by Pope Alexander VI (the duke's father) of aiding in his murder. In order to clear her name and reclaim her son she must uncover the true murderers. She is sent to Imola, where a recent string of murders has uncovered an amulet belonging to Juan and where the Pope's first born son, Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois, is brokering a peace with the condottieri (mercenery fighters) Damiata is certain killed her lover.

Meanwhile, Imola is also home to the Florentine secretary Nicolo Machiavelli, who fears that Cesare's peace with the condottieri will mean the destruction of his beloved Florence. Joining forces with Damiata and Cesare's engineer general, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli tries to solve the murders and make his study of human nature, that eventually lead to the writing of The Prince.

Ennis does a fantastic job of blending known history with his murder mystery. He makes certain assumptions regarding events and characterizations based on primary sources (which he discusses briefly in an afterward to the book so the reader has a better idea of what's true and what he fabricated for the novel).

The first part of the book is told by Damiata, with the rest by Machiavelli. As the characters get closer to discovering the identity of the murderer, Ennis manages to maintain a spirit of uncertainty, making it hard to guess who the real culpret is. This is helped by the number of likely suspects being investigated and the difficulty in performing the investigation.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  110 reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant historical fiction July 15 2012
By audrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In 1497 Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI. This cruel tyrant ruled Rome during the Italian Renaissance, the time of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Macchiavelli, the latter considered the first modern political thinker. The pope had two sons, the brilliant strategist Cesare and the hapless younger brother Juan. In a mystery that still enlivens historical discussions, Alexander put Juan in charge of the papal armies. As expected, things went horribly wrong, and the armies suffered defeat after defeat, as the brilliant Cesare floundered as an ill-respected cardinal. Juan was murdered and again, historians debate the identity of the murderer. Did Cesare have a hand in the death? Did he also harbor impure thoughts about his sister Lucrezia and, if so, were the feelings returned? The Borgia family has fascinated historically minded thinkers for five centuries. Niccolo Macchiavelli was a minor functionary but a major thinker, and based on his experiences he wrote The Prince, which CEOs and military strategists have regarded with awe for half a millennium, using it to justify repulsive behavior, misunderstanding the lessons that Macchiavelli left behind.

Author Michael Ennis (Duchess of Milan, Byzantium) writes beautifully in two narrative voices -- that of Damiata, courtesan lover of Juan, and Niccolo Macchiavelli. Along with Leonardo da Vinci, these two must find out who killed Juan. The book is filled with texture and authentic characters as Ennis masterfully incorporates historical facts within his chilling mystery.

Ten years in the making, but deliciously timed to take advantage of The Borgias wave, this terrific was book was so good that about 2/3 of the way through I began to fear that there was no way this thrilling story could be sustained, and that there was little chance the ending could be as good as the rest -- but it was! I absolutely loved the book, the mystery, the narration, the ending, the Author's Note, even the font! This is a plausible reading of history, and an intriguing interpretation of events surrounding these fascinating characters.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder Mystery Wrapped within an Elaborate Renaissance Tapestry July 20 2012
By Jason Golomb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Michael Ennis has woven an elaborate Renaissance tapestry with his novel "Malice of Fortune". He's embedded a good old-fashioned murder mystery within a tale of corrupt priests and mercilessly unrepentant Italian warlords, who live in a world struggling to actualize and accept that science and religion can coexist.

Two-thirds of the tale is written from the perspective of Niccolo Machiavelli as he details his activities in trailing Cesare Borgia on behalf of his Florentine government, while Borgia conquers eastern Italy and battles his on-again off-again allied mercenaries. The other third is written from the viewpoint of a courtesan, Damiata, who finds she and her son caught up in the mystery of who murdered Cesare's brother, and Pope Alexander VI's son, Juan Borgia.

Damiata and Niccolo find themselves in mortal danger as Ennis slowly unravels a multi-threaded string of ongoing murders, connected to the death of Juan, while being inextricably linked to the political machinations of the Pope, Cesare and the mercenaries. Leonardo DaVinci plays a small but critical role as a high functioning savant that provides an anchor-point for Ennis' discussions around the role of science during the High Renaissance. The interwoven plots, and pseudo scientifically based processing of clues reads like a combination of CSI, Silence of the Lambs and The Godfather.

This story has every opportunity to be great. The writing vividly recreates an early 16th century Italy ruled by the Borgias, and contains such all-world personalities like Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo DaVinci. Ennis' book, though, just misses - primarily from his presentation of disjointed, rushed, and simply befuddling clues. A clue to the disconnectedness of the plot points perhaps resides within Ennis' acknowledgements, where he thanks what appears to me to be too many editors involved in the project.

Ennis' themes cover love, fate and science.

Fate takes the form in the goddess Fortuna, a driving force in all of the main characters in the book. With Fortuna such an all-pervading entity in their lives, Leonardo provides an enlightened perspective. "We have been given the means to hold in our hands the entre orb of the earth. We need only measure it in order to posses it. But we need not turn this new world of ours over to Fortune, chaos, and war." DaVinci reflects on the world that's at a tipping point where science is starting to equal religion and battle superstition. Leonardo, of course, was at the forefront of that change at the height of the Renaissance.

Niccolo plays the role of a modern FBI profiler, working to understand the seemingly horrific nature of the perpetrator of what becomes a significant series of murders reaching beyond the Juan Borgia. So while Leonardo has his science of mathematics and measurement, Niccolo has his science of the mind and the nature of man. He looks to histories' greatest psychotics to understand the underlying perspectives and motivations of this serial killer. DaVinci and Nicollo don't agree on the best ways to pursue and identify the killer, but the combination of each discipline leads the reader down a satisfying path.

In reality, Niccolo Machiavelli used Cesare Borgia campaigns during the early 16th century as his basis for "The Prince". Armed with that knowledge, I found the development of Nicollo and Ceasre's characters to be quite enlightening.

The book is good, but not great. The time period is fascinating, and the specific characters around which with the plot orbits are all based on historical characters. If this era is of interest, I definitely recommend the read.

I received this book through the Amazon Vine program.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good mystery; much better history July 31 2012
By W. Sanders - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Some mystery novels are interesting because of the mystery itself in the Sherlock Holmes tradition, while others are interesting because of the characters and settings. This novel belongs to the latter category. If you've read "The Prince," you may be surprised to find that Niccolò Macchiavelli is portrayed as a caring and decent fellow who is the brains behind most of the investigation to solve the mystery of a serial killer who is killing women, chopping them into quarters (sans the head) and burying them on points of a compass rose. At the same time, Niccolò (as Macchiavelli is referred to throughout the book by narrator Madonna Damiata), a concurrent mystery is under way--who killed the Pope's son Juan. (If you're unfamiliar with the time and circumstances and would like a quick and dirty picture of the Borgias, I can recommend both Showtime's Borgia series and a different Canal+ Borgia series on Netflix.)

The general setup is viewed through the eyes of Madonna Damiata, a former lover of Juan Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). Damiata has a child with Juan, and the pope takes the child as a hostage forcing Damiata to go in search of Juan Borgia's killer. (By the way, the Line of Demarcation that divided South America into Spanish and Portuguese domains was authored by the Borgia pope.) The search centers in Imola, a northern city in the Romagna region, the general area of the Papal States that snakes its way from the Kindom of Naples in the south and Ferrara (just south of Venice) in the north. Imola is in the northern portion of Rogmaga. Besides bumping to Niccolò Macchiavelli, Damiata also encounters Leonardo da Vinci, whose accurate maps are used to help track down the serial killer and find the dismembered body parts. Leonardo is older and not too interesting at this time in his life. He is working as a military architect for Cesare Borgia (the Pope's other key son who took over after Juan's death), but Niccolò Macchiavelli more than makes up for it as an interesting historical figure.

Besides the serial killings and the mystery of who killed Juan Borgia (still an unsolved actual homicide) , the author Michael Ennis, provides a wealth of detail about life during the Italian Renaissance. Damiata paints a dim picture of the options available to women during that time--a wife, a nun, or a whore (Damiata's options). As well as meeting historical figures, I found that minor, even unnamed, characters equally as interesting. These include the bravos, the different functionaries who worked for the church or nobles, and the everyday people and their superstitions, drugs and life. "Riding the goat" and the "white angel" (two ways of talking about the devil) are all parts of a time we think of as an escape from the Dark Ages, but in fact are still alive and well during the Renaissance.

If you like historical novels because of an interest in the period and key characters who lived then, I think you'll enjoy this book. The mystery, while not bad, seemed to be more of a vehicle to showcase life in late 15th Century Italy. The mystery was enough to keep me guessing, but the process that led to the solution is more interesting than the solution itself.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Renaissance Italy - schemes and intrigue... Oct. 18 2012
By Denise Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Although I had high hopes for this novel after reading the glowing reviews and author plugs, I must say that I was quite unimpressed by the book. I recently read Sacred Hearts: A Novel, also set in Italy and in roughly the same time period, and so was eager to read about the Borgia Pope's machinations in securing his power during that unrest. How could it fail to interest me considering that the character list would include well known historical figures -- Duke Valentino, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Leonardo da Vinci??

I had to really struggle to force myself through the novel. Riddled with Italian words and phrases (I don't speak Italian and it wasn't always obvious what the words meant, read: no translation), I found it very frustrating and boring. Although the story was supposed to be about a Vatican courtesan, Damiata, who is sent to Imola to find out who killed the Pope's son, Juan, the pace was really slow moving and the overwhelming amount of detail detracted from the plot line. Supposedly the murderer is taunting those intent on discovering his identity with riddles, messages, and maps. Meanwhile there is violence, war, witchcraft, and superstition as the unlikely team tries to find the killer even though they each have their own reason for the quest.

This should have been riveting and suspenseful, but mostly it was tedious. The outcome wasn't unexpected and thrills were absent.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls flat July 11 2012
By Joseph Devita - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book takes three of the most interesting personages of the Renaissance- Leonardo Da Vinci, Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia, adds in several other real and composite historical figures, entwines them in a story combining real events with a diabolical mystery involving witches and genocide and attempts to find the explication for a seminal intellectual event- the genesis of "The Prince", a book which many believe marks the beginning of modern political theory. Unfortunately in this case all these promising ingredients result in an unfulfilling meal which at best whets your appetite for the real thing.

In considering the failure of this book, I think the major one is that it is fiction with the pretension of history[or perhaps history pretending to be fiction is more apt] - and therefore any real suspense is almost impossible if you know anything about these actual events. There are several places where Machiavelli is endangered, yet if you know anything about him, and it would seem to me if you didn't this book would not be appealing to you at all, then you have to know he is never in any real danger. As for the story of Borgia and his adversaries who for a large part of the book engage in a confusing game of cat and mouse- well any attempt to maintain suspense is futile if you know any of the history of Italy at this time.

Since this is true of all the main characters, other than a courtesan who the author explains is part real and part amalgam, a story like this is constrained in its literary license, and therefore it should be an interesting character study that fleshes out personalities- like "The Agony and the Ecstasy" did for Michaelangelo. Yet here again the author fails. DaVinci, one of the most multifaceted geniuses in history is depicted as a sort of absent minded professor who covers his groin when he is lying, and Machiavelli, a man who is credited with discerning the modern mind in many ways, is depicted as a lovelorn minor functionary who is ensnared by the courtesan and has his life changed forever for the better by this prostitute with a heart of gold. Sounds silly- and it is.

This book does have its good points- the author is effective in evoking the times and places, though sometimes he goes a little over the top. And the book does carry you along, even though the motivations and reasons which animate the characters become convoluted and overtaxed to the point where you may find yourself wondering why events are unfolding as they are.

Unfortunately the final denouement is all too expected, and if you are like me you will find yourself saying- "that's it?". The anticipation that somehow the author would pull a transcendental experience out of his hat is disappointed, and instead this hybrid of history and fiction fails at both counts. Sometimes the whole is less than the sum of its parts- a mathematical conundrum the real Da Vinci would have enjoyed pondering.
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