Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

Title: The Book of Unholy Mischief
Author: Elle Newmark
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria, 2009


It is 1498, and the whole of Venice is abuzz. Hidden somewhere in the labyrinthine city is an ancient book, rumoured to contain long buried secrets and the key to immeasurable power.
Street orphan Luciano is amazed to find himself apprenticed to the greatest chef in Venice. In the Doge's palace Chef Ferrero takes the boy under his wing, instructing him in the most mysterious alchemy of all, that of the culinary art.
Each night, as the inquisitive boy concels himself behind a door to watch the Doge and his guests feasting, he wonders at the things he sees and hears.
But also watching from the shadows are some of the most dangerous men, powerful men in Venice, and as Luciano begins to suspect the fabled book is tantalisingly close at hand, he is pitched into the centre of a perilous intrigue.

Sound familiar? It did to me .............and the thought of another Da Vince code spinoff was almost enough to make me return the book to the library shelf. Fortunately, I chose not to for while that thriller/suspense is present there is so much more to this story .

Narrated by an aging Luciano looking back at a pivotal time in his life it is the tale of a disadvantaged child and the man who teaches him more than cooking skills. Chef Ferrero becomes a father substitute and teaches about life and the value of truth, trust and honesty, encouraging the boy to question and develop his own ideas and beliefs.
Both these themes could be set in any time and any place which perhaps lessens any sense of the importance of the historical setting but that ceases to matter too because.....

What Elle Newmark does exceptionally well is write rich and detailed descriptive prose that brings  people, places and events vividly to life. Exerpt from p199

Venice is a burst of pink azaleas turning brown at the edges, a carnival of decadence. Marble palazzi sink, centimeter by centimeter, while every winter, the sea floods the city ankle-deep and her citizens frolic and fornicate in her watery heart. Bacchus jeers at the Grim reaper, and oblivious musicians in the Piazza San Marco play madly while a dried-up whore runs a lascivious tongue over her rouged lips.

It's like wandering in a lush rainforest of words alive with colour, sound and smells that entice one to reach out and explore every sense. And when the author adds one final ingredient what could have been merely mediocre is lifted to something spiced with its own originality.
Lots and lots of food.
From the markets and the gardens, to the kitchens and the cooks - stockpots, sauces , savouries and desserts - you can smell and taste it all.
All quite delicious!

I loved it!

Year of the Historical Challenge


  1. Just found your blog! Love it, looking forward to all your review :)

  2. Hello .........thank you and I look forward to repaying the visit.

  3. It sounds quite delicious, Cat. Thanks for the review!

  4. You've made me want to read this book, Cat. I have just added it to my 'to read' list. Thank you!