This book is about a boy named Luciano, who tells us the story of how he got off the streets of Venice in the 1400's. He becomes an apprentice to a chef who is a member of a secret group of men who want to preserve knowledge in the form of books. The food references in this book are overly done and grew tiresome. The author was trying to use a lot of food metaphor in the book, but it got boring, and as a reader, you don't really get that until the end. The author also took great liberties with facts in the book, but that's okay with me. I don't feel like there was any mystery to this novel either other than you just kept wondering how he was going to still be alive. I kept wanting to like this book, but I just don't think I do.
ISBN 1416590544 - A recipe for The Book of Unholy Mischief: A little ISBN 0486424537 Oliver Twist, for the child pickpockets, a bit of ISBN 1400079179 The Da Vinci Code, for the secret that could destroy The Church, and way too much ISBN 0767916069 Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy, for the really-really-really boring food strewn throughout. Set it during the Renaissance and top with things that just didnt happen during the Renaissance. Viola!
Luciano, as an adult, tells the story of his childhood and his introduction to a secret group whose sole reason for being is to preserve knowledge. One of many children living on the streets of Venice, Luciano has two friends, one cat and a huge crush. He doesn't have enough to eat or a warm place to sleep until he is taken in, inexplicably, by the chef of the doge. He's not aware why he was chosen, but he appreciates the room and board that comes with his apprenticeship and he shares some of his good fortune with his friends on the street while he considers what becoming a chef might mean for his future with the lovely Francesca. When rumors begin to circulate about a mysterious book, all of Venice searches for it, in the hope of claiming one of several large rewards. Many will kill for what they think is in the book; others will gladly give their lives to protect what they know is in it - and Luciano finds himself having to decide where his loyalties lie.
The food references were enough to bore me to sleep, seriously. I get the whole food metaphor thing, but the reader wont really see that tie for a long time - and by then, the food has been overdone and then some. It's an interesting idea, but then it's beaten to death. Newmark actually makes part of this case herself, when she has Luciano trying to create his own recipe: it's the balance of the right ingredients that makes a story great. This is a good story, but it's weighted down, at times, by the food. The language seems wrong for the times, and everyone from the wealthy men to the street tough boys speaks in a very feminine voice, which is disconcerting.
The real faults in the book are factual. The author seems to have done some poor research: (1) tomatoes were not eaten in 1498 and were called "love apples" in America in the 1700s, not in Italy (2) pistols were invented about 1540 (3) the first mention of the Iron Maiden in actual history is 1793 (4) the fork is mentioned in the bible but the author's given the Italians credit for the creation of it circa 1498 (5) Torquemada's call to Venice is questionable since he died in 1498 at the age of 78 - making him likely either too old or too dead to be good at his job anymore (6) there is no Bridge of Sorrows but there is a Bridge of Sighs where the "Bridge of Sorrows" is said to be, connecting the prisons to the Doge's Palace - but it was built in 1600.
I hope Newmark sticks with it and takes another shot at the genre, because she's got the story, she's just got to put the next one together a little better. (the copy I've read is an ARC and details might have changed before it was printed, just FYI)
Wonderfully engaging, insightful look into the necessary hiding of valuable knowledge during a time of barbaric censorship and what true chefs feel about their art of cookery; was baked to prefection! There is a "performance level" intensity about food craft that you either get it or you don't. This was a homage to all of us. Loved it!
Note: Locations and factual liberations were addressed by the author, unfortunately some members (who must remain nameless) must have missed that part while skimming for errors.
Enjoyable romp thru old Venice. I only wish the recipes described had been added to the book as well!
Interesting book, but I thought the story moved slowly. Because I found the book easy to put down, it took me much longer to finish reading it than I would have liked.