The Book of Unholy Mischief

The Book of Unholy Mischief

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by Elle Newmark, Ty Jones, Raul Esparza
     
 

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In a world of violence and intrigue, who guards the truth?

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

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Overview

In a world of violence and intrigue, who guards the truth?

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.

Rich with the luxurious colors and textures of Venice, The Book ofUnholy Mischief delights the senses and breathes fresh life into an age defined by intellectual revival and artistic vibrancy. A luminous and seductive novel, it is, at its heart, a high-spirited tribute to the fruits of knowledge and the extraordinary power of those who hold its key. In a world of violence an d in trigue, who guards the truth?

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Editorial Reviews

Clare Clark
What Newmark does bring to the novel…is a richness of atmosphere…It's clear that her interest lies more in place than chase, and there are some wonderful set pieces that bring the city sparklingly to life…So The Book of Unholy Mischief turns out to be an unexpected hybrid, a highly flavored and faintly preposterous romp that is also a meditation on food, ideas and the importance of keeping hold of the principles of free thought in a world oppressed by censorship.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Luciano, the wily hero of Newmark's entertaining first novel, is only a street urchin when the doge of Venice's chef finds him, but once dragged into the kitchen as an apprentice, he discovers more bubbling than boiling water. While the town is in an uproar over the rumor of an ancient book containing magical potions and lessons on alchemy, Luciano pines away for a girl and learns the basics of chopping, sweeping and eavesdropping. As he and his maestro become friendlier, Luciano begins to learn that there's more to his teacher than a garden of strange plants and a box of spices. Newmark does a fine job of building suspense and keeping the novel barreling along, and her knowledge of and affection for 15th-century Venice adds charm to this nicely told adventure yarn. (Dec.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In Renaissance Venice, Luciano is a starving orphan until Maestro Ferrero, master chef to the doge, plucks him off the street and makes him his apprentice. Bright but wary of his incredible luck, Luciano spies on everyone and everything in the palace. When he sees the doge poison a peasant he has invited to his table, Luciano is shocked but determined to find out more. He learns that the doge (and many of the most powerful men in Italy) is searching for a book that contains formulas for alchemy and potions for love and immortality. Luciano feels the need to find the book but is torn among his respect for his maestro, his love for Francesca (a beautiful novitiate he meets in the market), and loyalty to his best friend from the streets, Marco. If Luciano succeeds, whom will he honor with the prize? Newmark uses great historical detail and marvelous descriptions of food to make this debut historical novel come alive. Recommended for all libraries with historical fiction collections. [Originally self-published, this title won the iUniverse Editor's Choice Award and drew the attention of agents and publishers when the author threw herself an online book party.-Ed.]
—Anna Nelson

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781436151139
Publisher:
Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
03/23/2009

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Book of Unholy Mischief

My name is Luciano — just Luciano. I'm Venetian by birth, old now and chained to my memories, compelled to return, link by link, seeking clarity.

There's a matter about which I am sworn to secrecy, but times have changed since I took my oath. In my lifetime, I've witnessed man's emergence from centuries of darkness. Great thinkers have unlocked our minds, and great artists have opened our eyes and our hearts. Some are calling it a renaissance — a rebirth — and it will reverberate far into the future because of a miraculous new invention called the printing press. Perhaps, now, it would be a disservice to the advancement of knowledge to remain silent. Perhaps the pendulum has swung a full arc, and the time has come for me to speak. If I proceed with caution...well, those who have ears, let them hear.

The intrigue took place in my youth, when I served as an apprentice to the doge's chef in Venice. I first suspected some unholy mischief when the doge invited an uncouth peasant to dine with him in the palace. In the time-honored tradition of servants everywhere, I assumed my post behind the slightly open service door to the dining room in order to spy, and I marveled at the sight of them together: The doge, chief magistrate of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, gracious and bejeweled, sat with his guest, a bewildered paesano with calloused hands, dirt under his fingernails, and unwashed hair that had been hastily wetted and pushed off his face to show respect.

The meal began with clear calf's-foot broth served in shallow porcelain bowls so fine as to appear translucent in candlelight. The peasantoffered the serving maid a sheepish smile and murmured, "Grazie, signora." His rough voice clashed with his meek demeanor.

She snorted at his ignorance — the absurdity of thanking a serving maid — then bowed to the doge and took her leave. Out on the landing, with me, she mumbled, "I hope that dumb contadino enjoys his free meal. The doge is up to no good." She shrugged and went down to the kitchen for the next course, but she needn't have bothered.

The peasant stared into his soup bowl like a Circassian studying tea leaves. Having come from his world myself, I could read his mind: Surely, here in the palace, soup should not be gulped from the bowl as it was in his own dirt-floor kitchen. How should he proceed?

When the doge selected a large spoon from an array of filigreed silverware beside his plate, the peasant did the same. The shabby guest attempted to slide the soup silently into his mouth from the edge of the spoon, as the doge did, but gaps in his rotted teeth caused a loud, sibilant slurping. The man's bristled face reddened, and he laid his spoon down in defeat.

The doge appeared not to notice. He smiled — a glimpse of gold winking from the back of his mouth — and generously filled a silver goblet with his private stock of Valpolicella, a dark red wine with a floral bouquet and bittersweet aftertaste. With a hospitable tilt of his head, the doge said, "Per favore, signore," and offered the goblet to his chastened dinner companion.

The poor man smiled timidly and wrapped two meaty hands around the goblet. He tried to drink his wine slowly, soundlessly, and this self-conscious attempt at delicacy allowed the wine to saturate his senses. Unaccustomed to such complexity of flavor, he drank the goblet down and finished with a lusty smacking of his lips. Flush with pleasure, he carefully placed his empty goblet on the lace tablecloth and turned to offer his thanks to the doge, but...Marrone!

The man's smile twisted into a grimace. His forehead knotted like a ginger root, and he clawed at his throat. While he choked and struggled, his eyes spilled shock and confusion. He fell sideways off his needlework seat and tumbled headfirst onto the Turkish carpet with an inelegant thunk. His eyes glazed over with a dead man's stare.

The doge, a feeble, syphilitic old man, dabbed the corners of his mouth with a linen napkin, then heaved his royal personage off the chair. He steadied himself on the table edge with one liver-spotted hand, knelt over the corpse, and reached into the folds of his robe to bring forth a vial of amber liquid. He pried open the dead man's mouth, tipped the vial to lips already turning blue, and carefully dribbled in his elixir.

With a grunt of disgust, the doge poked his finger into the fetid mouth, pressing on the tongue to make sure the fluid trickled down the dead man's throat. When the vial was empty, the doge released the sigh of a man who has completed a small but unpleasant task. He pulled out the lemon-scented handkerchief he always kept tucked in his sleeve, wiped his hands, and then pressed the handkerchief to his nose. He inhaled deeply, clearly relieved to be able, finally, to counter the peasant's stench.

The doge, clad in his cumbersome brocades and with his handkerchief pressed firmly to his nose, sat back in his chair and watched the corpse with small, critical eyes. Absently, he adjusted his sly red cap so that the blunt peak at the back stood up, like a middle finger pointed at God.

Copyright © 2008 by Elle Newmark, Inc.

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