This review is part of a tour going on for this book and marks the first time I’m participating in one! So I thank Pump Up Your Book Promotions and Ms Newmark for giving me this opportunity to read and review this book.
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 that grew from the sea, 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. What he discovers will swing open the shutters of his mind, inflame his deepest desires, and leave an indelible mark on his soul. (Taken from Amazon.ca)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. It certainly took me a while to get into it. The first few chapters where Luciano’s story was told did certainly help the pace quicken a bit but I noticed while reading this, it’s a very relaxing slow read. It’s not a book where you’re not quite immediately thrown into the whirlwind. What does help is if the reader is interested in cooking, and in history, then this book won’t be a big issue. Those not interested in those two subjects might have trouble getting interested in the plot.
The intrigue is fed to you in little morsels (as if it’s food). Food and the underlying intrigue go hand in hand in this novel but you’ll encounter rich descriptions on food and its smells, taste, and texture. I don’t mind these descriptions, in fact not only does it succeed in making me hungry, it’s so well written you can actually taste the food being described. I only wish there were recipes handy to go along with the book!
Now, about intrigue. It’s well done, even though you don’t get much of it until near the end of the book. However when it is presented it’s done so it still manages to get your attention and it packs a punch at the end. The last half of the novel really flew by for me as I was really caught up by the action and mystery. I also thought the use of food and having certain political sympathies really did go well hand in hand, and perhaps it’s a very interesting twist on a job as a Chef in a political household. The ending provided a good sense of satisfaction. I would call it bittersweet because some of the outcome of the characters wasn’t what I hoped to be.
As for the characters, Luciano was fun to read. He has his dumb moments where you feel like smacking him in the face, but I really like his loyalty. It was an admirable trait and although difficult to maintain, he really stuck by it. As to Marco, I thought his outcome was a little harsh for his actions, and although I thought he was a little weasel, I’m not sure he entirely deserved what he got. I thought Francesca was a greedy ambitious tart, but I liked her ending. It was certainly well deserved and well suited for her. Also, of course, I loved Bernardo and Luciano’s relationship. Who says cats can’t be faithful companions?
I wouldn’t recommend this book to those that are not into a slow relaxing pace, it’s certainly a book that’s meant to be slowly savoured and enjoyed a little at a time. However those that want something to do with the art of cooking with a bit of history and intrigue on the side would certainly love this beautifully descriptive novel.
I give it a 7 out of 10.