Cue Aladdin meets the Da Vinci Code.
The doge, and pretty much all of Venice, dream of finding the mysterious book. What book?
Well, no one realy agrees on what exactly the book contains. The elixir of life? Alchemy? A love potion? No one is sure.
Luciano, a homeless thief, has no real chance of finding the book. That is, until he is taken in by Amato Ferrero, chef to the doge of Venice. Chef Ferrero is famous for his recipes, and Luciano hopes to learn them all. But the desperate doge will use any means necessary to find the book, and by working in his kitchen, Luciano will learn much more than he expected.
Clever. That’s how I describe the plot of this book: clever.
The plot is surprising political, and I really enjoy that aspect. I like how Newmark presents a scene, allows the reader to interpret it, and then explains it cleverly. It follows how a person’s mind thinks, and the natural progression of how we’re influenced by our surroundings.
It does get Da Vinci Code-ish in the second half, but it makes sense and frankly it’s much more subtle.
Luciano is a decent protagonist. I admire his thirst for knowledge and his desire to be better. Newmark does well to make him naive and impressionable, rounding out his character.
Chef Ferrero is also interesting. He’s knowledgable, secretive, but also incredibly kind. There’s a hinted familial relation between the two of them that is never fully explained, but I don’t think it needed to be. The Chef treats Luciano like a son, one to whom he can pass on his legacy, but isn’t above reprimanding him if he doesn’t do as he’s told.
All the characters in the novel have something they either want or want to keep, and their personality is built around it. It’s a smart move in this story, where people are very much pulled by their desires, and it rounds them out, balancing admirable qualities with relatable flaws.
I love how Newmark turns Venice into a character. Luciano describes her with equal loving and loathing, enchanted with his birthplace but also cursing it with its penchant for deceit, seduction, and darkness.
The only real downside to the writing is that the book is sort of slow. But I think that pace suits the book just fine, almost like you’re taking a casual stroll through Venice with these characters.
What I really like about this book is the emphasis on the importance of knowledge. Chef Ferrero is such a learned man, and he turns Luciano into one as well. This does have its set backs…at times the book gets sort of pretentious and self-important.
It’s also a story about greed and what a person will do in order to get what he wants.
In the end, The Book of Unholy Mischief is a clever story that feels like a person roaming through Venice. I enjoyed it a lot.
Recommendation: Read. While not technically historical fiction, I’d recommend it to those who like books set in another period.