24 January 2009

The Book of Unholy Mischief (Elle Newmark)

Set in Venice, at the dawn of the
Renaissance, this book seemed
promising. Luciano is a boy from the streets, lucky enough to be taken in as apprentice to the chef in the Doge's palace. Working in the kitchens of the palace, Luciano is witness to the wheeling and dealing which goes on between the council, the doge and various members of the Venetian aristocracy. The most significant topic of conversation at ducal dinner parties is the existence of a book, brought to Venice from the Byzantine empire, which contains the key to power in Venice. The doge wants it because he believes it will grant him eternal life, the council members want it because they think it will get them gold, even the pope gets in on the action. Mixed in with all the courtly intrigue are numerous descriptions of the food which Chef Ferrero prepares, and uses to influence the doge and his dining companions.
I went into this book with ridiculously high expectations. For starters: I love Venice, I love the Renaissance, I love food - perfect! Add to that the fact that it has received amazing review after amazing review, including one in Bookchat which was supposedly written by me... It received the Rep's Choice Award 2009, and just about everyone I've spoken to has raved about it. That said, I was seriously underwhelmed. I was told this was the kind of book you read in one sitting, because you just can't put it down. It took me a couple of weeks to get through it because every time I put it down, my interest in it vanished. It was enjoyable while I was actually reading it, but there was nothing about the story that really hooked me in. The writing was good, the descriptions of food in particular - was constantly hungry while I was reading it, and the initial premise was good, it just didn't quite work in the end. Although I will admit, that maybe I stand alone with that judgment. 5/10
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