1502 is the setting for this absorbing historical thriller, providing the
reader an insight into the times of the Borgia family Popes. Entitled The
Malice of Fortune, and written by Michael Ennis (ISBN 978-0-09-957979-3,
Arrow Books, 2012) it was made available by Bookazine in The Avenue.
In his Author’s Note, Michael Ennis details the data that was left for
posterity by Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. That the research
was in depth goes without saying. Eight volumes and 52 diplomatic dispatches
from Machiavelli, whilst da Vinci’s works were less organized but included
thousands of notebook pages. Duke Valentino, the eldest son of the Pope, is
shown through Machiavelli’s writings as a most strange individual. A
brilliant strategist in war, and a totally profligate person in peace. “His
conscience-free, lethal expedience providing a remarkably effective and
enduring template for sociopaths seeking power in any time, place, or
organization; the same amoral realpolitik that has guided mass-murdering
dictators is now studied by corporate CEOs and marketed as career advice for
middle-management schemers.” And that leaves you in no doubt as to what is
thought of Valentino!
As well as describing life in 1502, the book also details items such as the
clothing worn by the women in those days. Not the simple garb of today, but
outer garments fashioned with color and bead decoration. The food consumed
by the upper classes in 1502 was like that eaten today in five star
restaurants, with desserts made of sugar crystals in the shape of unicorns.
It is a medieval thriller, narrated principally by Damiata the Roman
courtesan, in which Machiavelli and da Vinci are exhuming a body which had
been cut into four quarters, and then beheaded. A body that could show the
guilty parties in the assassination of Juan, Valentino’s younger brother.
In the meantime, Damiata continues to try and find Juan’s killers, because
the Pope holds her son as hostage. All very convoluted! Add to that the
warring mercenaries, under dukes not paying any allegiance to the Pope at
The chapters are short to keep the interest of the reader, and the ‘chase’
scenes take the reader through all sorts of interesting places, including
the rough brothels of the day.
After growing a little lost initially, I warmed to this book, and you will
B. 385 for a fairly weighty tome of the same number of pages. This book
requires the reader to have at least a cursory interest in history, and
specifically that of the Borgias at the beginning of the 1500’s. Combined
with the search for the killers, this results in a historic who-dunnit of
Whilst reading the book, I was reminded of Dan Brown’s The daVinci Code, but
it is not a book attempting to piggyback on Brown’s very successful novels.
In many ways, Ennis has been more faithful to the realities of those days,
though the plot is similarly a contorted one. Perhaps the more telling
factor is that Brown sets his ‘historical’ novels in the present day, whilst
Ennis sets his in the period, in this case 1502.