Author: Michael Ennis, 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery Renaissance Italy.
Other Details: Hardback. 416 pages.
When Pope Alexander Borgia dispatches Damiata, a beautiful courtesan, to the remote fortress city of Imola in Northern Italy to learn the truth behind the murder of his beloved son, she knows she cannot fail, for the Pope holds her own son hostage. Once there, Damiata falls under the spell of the charismatic Duke Valentino Borgia, whose own life is threatened by the condottieri/i a powerful cabal of mercenary warlords.
As the murders multiply, Damiata's search for the killer grows more urgent. And so she enlists the help of an obscure Florentine diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, and an eccentric military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci. Together they begin to decipher the killer's taunting riddles: Leonardo with his ground breaking 'science of observation' and Machiavelli with his new 'science of men.' Travelling across a land torn apart by war, Damiata and Machiavelli enter a labyrinth of ancient superstition and erotic obsession to discover at its centre a new face of evil and a terrible secret - a secret is still to be found within the lines of Machiavelli's most controversial book, 'The Prince'. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
There is a great deal to commend this novel in terms of the historical setting, the style of writing, the characterisation and the extensive research that Michael Ennis put into its production. Its premise was highly engaging with mysteries within mysteries and many twists and turns along with musings about philosophy and the nature of Fortune.
In The Malice of Fortune Michael Ennis chose the more traditional portrayal of the Borgias than Sarah Dunant did in Blood and Beauty. However, here they are supporting characters while Niccolò Machiavelli and the courtesan Damiata serve as central characters and the novel's narrators via written accounts in which they seek to discover the murderer not only of Juan Borgia but also of a number of women whose bodies have been found in and around Imola.
In the relationship between Machiavelli and Damiata I was reminded of the one between Plato and Diotima and their discussions in The Orpheus Descent about the nature of love and soul-mates. Similar conversations are found in The Malice of Fortune.
I had read this during a 24-hour read-a-thon, which wasn't the best way to read a novel that is this complex in its narrative. It is a novel that I shall likely buy in paperback or audio edition as I feel it would benefit from a closer, slower paced reading and may well suggest it for my reading group in the coming months.