In late 15th century Venice, Luciano, a street urchin is collared by the doge's chef when he tries to steal a pomegranate. With this lucky instance, he is plucked from his hard existence in the streets and apprenticed to the chef. Using the cunning he used to survive on the streets, he soon discovers that there are more secrets and lies in Venice than he ever imagined and that his Master is so much more than he ever dreamed. Meanwhile, rumors circulate in Venice about a book containing no one knows what. Some people believe that it contains the secrets of alchemy. The doge thinks it has the information to cure his syphilis. Luciano is certain that is has a love potion that will make the little novice to whom he has given his heart love him back. People in power are willing to kill to possess the book, offering staggering awards for it. And so amidst the treachery and political manuvering that is Venice, the race to find and possess the book is on.
Caught up in the frenzy surrounding the book, Luciano eavesdrops in the palace, reports to his friends on the street, talks to the novice, and of course, starts to learn to cook. Watching the chef, he learns the importance of food, wondering if the meals that issue from their kitchen are changing the course of history and the fate of Venice. One of Luciano's first private lessons with the chef teaches him about the beauty of an onion, intricate layer upon intricate layer upon intricate layer. This is a beautiful metaphor for both the Venice Newmark has created as well as the story as a whole. As Luciano's apprenticeship continues, he not only learns to cook but to conspire and the grave importance of secrets kept and secrets spilled. Told in relatively short chapters, the reader will want to keep racing to the end of each, eager for the small revelations that will allow another piece of the puzzle about this fabulous, much-coveted book to fall into place.
Told from Luciano's point of view, the characters are fully fleshed out and human. And while the reader can see the pitfalls in certain characters long before Luciano recognizes that not everyone is worthy of his good heart's affection, this serves to illustrate Luciano's character better than had we been told of the traits that make him the perfect apprentice of the chef's. Newmark builds the suspense well and the final denouement is balanced and inevitable. In all honesty, before I got the book, I wasn't too certain this was going to be the book for me but as I continued to read the description, I couldn't escape the tug of intrigue and I am so very glad I didn't! I thoroughly enjoyed this lively historical fiction. I studiously ignored some of the factual inconsistencies (and Newmark addresses some of this in the author's afterword) because after all, this is fiction and allowances for the fantastical do not go amiss. I'd have loved for the chef to cook for me after all those mouth-watering food descriptions. Like the movie Seducing Beauty, this was an appealing, satisfying, and vividly tempting glimpse into the mysteries, politics, and depravities of long ago Venice.
To find out more about author Elle Newmark, check out her author website.
Thanks to Tracee from Pump Up Your Book Promotions for my copy of the book.