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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant historical fiction
In 1497 Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI. This cruel tyrant ruled Rome during the Italian Renaissance, the time of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Macchiavelli, the latter considered the first modern political thinker. The pope had two sons, the brilliant strategist Cesare and the hapless younger brother Juan. In a mystery that still enlivens historical discussions,...
Published on July 15, 2012 by audrey

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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder Mystery Wrapped within an Elaborate Renaissance Tapestry
Michael Ennis has woven an elaborate Renaissance tapestry with his novel "Malice of Fortune". He's embedded a good old-fashioned murder mystery within a tale of corrupt priests and mercilessly unrepentant Italian warlords, who live in a world struggling to actualize and accept that science and religion can coexist.

Two-thirds of the tale is written from the...
Published on July 20, 2012 by Jason Golomb


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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant historical fiction, July 15, 2012
This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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In 1497 Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI. This cruel tyrant ruled Rome during the Italian Renaissance, the time of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Macchiavelli, the latter considered the first modern political thinker. The pope had two sons, the brilliant strategist Cesare and the hapless younger brother Juan. In a mystery that still enlivens historical discussions, Alexander put Juan in charge of the papal armies. As expected, things went horribly wrong, and the armies suffered defeat after defeat, as the brilliant Cesare floundered as an ill-respected cardinal. Juan was murdered and again, historians debate the identity of the murderer. Did Cesare have a hand in the death? Did he also harbor impure thoughts about his sister Lucrezia and, if so, were the feelings returned? The Borgia family has fascinated historically minded thinkers for five centuries. Niccolo Macchiavelli was a minor functionary but a major thinker, and based on his experiences he wrote The Prince, which CEOs and military strategists have regarded with awe for half a millennium, using it to justify repulsive behavior, misunderstanding the lessons that Macchiavelli left behind.

Author Michael Ennis (Duchess of Milan, Byzantium) writes beautifully in two narrative voices -- that of Damiata, courtesan lover of Juan, and Niccolo Macchiavelli. Along with Leonardo da Vinci, these two must find out who killed Juan. The book is filled with texture and authentic characters as Ennis masterfully incorporates historical facts within his chilling mystery.

Ten years in the making, but deliciously timed to take advantage of The Borgias wave, this terrific was book was so good that about 2/3 of the way through I began to fear that there was no way this thrilling story could be sustained, and that there was little chance the ending could be as good as the rest -- but it was! I absolutely loved the book, the mystery, the narration, the ending, the Author's Note, even the font! This is a plausible reading of history, and an intriguing interpretation of events surrounding these fascinating characters.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder Mystery Wrapped within an Elaborate Renaissance Tapestry, July 20, 2012
By 
Jason Golomb (Northern Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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Michael Ennis has woven an elaborate Renaissance tapestry with his novel "Malice of Fortune". He's embedded a good old-fashioned murder mystery within a tale of corrupt priests and mercilessly unrepentant Italian warlords, who live in a world struggling to actualize and accept that science and religion can coexist.

Two-thirds of the tale is written from the perspective of Niccolo Machiavelli as he details his activities in trailing Cesare Borgia on behalf of his Florentine government, while Borgia conquers eastern Italy and battles his on-again off-again allied mercenaries. The other third is written from the viewpoint of a courtesan, Damiata, who finds she and her son caught up in the mystery of who murdered Cesare's brother, and Pope Alexander VI's son, Juan Borgia.

Damiata and Niccolo find themselves in mortal danger as Ennis slowly unravels a multi-threaded string of ongoing murders, connected to the death of Juan, while being inextricably linked to the political machinations of the Pope, Cesare and the mercenaries. Leonardo DaVinci plays a small but critical role as a high functioning savant that provides an anchor-point for Ennis' discussions around the role of science during the High Renaissance. The interwoven plots, and pseudo scientifically based processing of clues reads like a combination of CSI, Silence of the Lambs and The Godfather.

This story has every opportunity to be great. The writing vividly recreates an early 16th century Italy ruled by the Borgias, and contains such all-world personalities like Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo DaVinci. Ennis' book, though, just misses - primarily from his presentation of disjointed, rushed, and simply befuddling clues. A clue to the disconnectedness of the plot points perhaps resides within Ennis' acknowledgements, where he thanks what appears to me to be too many editors involved in the project.

Ennis' themes cover love, fate and science.

Fate takes the form in the goddess Fortuna, a driving force in all of the main characters in the book. With Fortuna such an all-pervading entity in their lives, Leonardo provides an enlightened perspective. "We have been given the means to hold in our hands the entre orb of the earth. We need only measure it in order to posses it. But we need not turn this new world of ours over to Fortune, chaos, and war." DaVinci reflects on the world that's at a tipping point where science is starting to equal religion and battle superstition. Leonardo, of course, was at the forefront of that change at the height of the Renaissance.

Niccolo plays the role of a modern FBI profiler, working to understand the seemingly horrific nature of the perpetrator of what becomes a significant series of murders reaching beyond the Juan Borgia. So while Leonardo has his science of mathematics and measurement, Niccolo has his science of the mind and the nature of man. He looks to histories' greatest psychotics to understand the underlying perspectives and motivations of this serial killer. DaVinci and Nicollo don't agree on the best ways to pursue and identify the killer, but the combination of each discipline leads the reader down a satisfying path.

In reality, Niccolo Machiavelli used Cesare Borgia campaigns during the early 16th century as his basis for "The Prince". Armed with that knowledge, I found the development of Nicollo and Ceasre's characters to be quite enlightening.

The book is good, but not great. The time period is fascinating, and the specific characters around which with the plot orbits are all based on historical characters. If this era is of interest, I definitely recommend the read.

I received this book through the Amazon Vine program.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good mystery; much better history, July 31, 2012
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This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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Some mystery novels are interesting because of the mystery itself in the Sherlock Holmes tradition, while others are interesting because of the characters and settings. This novel belongs to the latter category. If you've read "The Prince," you may be surprised to find that Niccolò Macchiavelli is portrayed as a caring and decent fellow who is the brains behind most of the investigation to solve the mystery of a serial killer who is killing women, chopping them into quarters (sans the head) and burying them on points of a compass rose. At the same time, Niccolò (as Macchiavelli is referred to throughout the book by narrator Madonna Damiata), a concurrent mystery is under way--who killed the Pope's son Juan. (If you're unfamiliar with the time and circumstances and would like a quick and dirty picture of the Borgias, I can recommend both Showtime's Borgia series and a different Canal+ Borgia series on Netflix.)

The general setup is viewed through the eyes of Madonna Damiata, a former lover of Juan Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). Damiata has a child with Juan, and the pope takes the child as a hostage forcing Damiata to go in search of Juan Borgia's killer. (By the way, the Line of Demarcation that divided South America into Spanish and Portuguese domains was authored by the Borgia pope.) The search centers in Imola, a northern city in the Romagna region, the general area of the Papal States that snakes its way from the Kindom of Naples in the south and Ferrara (just south of Venice) in the north. Imola is in the northern portion of Rogmaga. Besides bumping to Niccolò Macchiavelli, Damiata also encounters Leonardo da Vinci, whose accurate maps are used to help track down the serial killer and find the dismembered body parts. Leonardo is older and not too interesting at this time in his life. He is working as a military architect for Cesare Borgia (the Pope's other key son who took over after Juan's death), but Niccolò Macchiavelli more than makes up for it as an interesting historical figure.

Besides the serial killings and the mystery of who killed Juan Borgia (still an unsolved actual homicide) , the author Michael Ennis, provides a wealth of detail about life during the Italian Renaissance. Damiata paints a dim picture of the options available to women during that time--a wife, a nun, or a whore (Damiata's options). As well as meeting historical figures, I found that minor, even unnamed, characters equally as interesting. These include the bravos, the different functionaries who worked for the church or nobles, and the everyday people and their superstitions, drugs and life. "Riding the goat" and the "white angel" (two ways of talking about the devil) are all parts of a time we think of as an escape from the Dark Ages, but in fact are still alive and well during the Renaissance.

If you like historical novels because of an interest in the period and key characters who lived then, I think you'll enjoy this book. The mystery, while not bad, seemed to be more of a vehicle to showcase life in late 15th Century Italy. The mystery was enough to keep me guessing, but the process that led to the solution is more interesting than the solution itself.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Renaissance Italy - schemes and intrigue..., October 18, 2012
This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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Although I had high hopes for this novel after reading the glowing reviews and author plugs, I must say that I was quite unimpressed by the book. I recently read Sacred Hearts: A Novel, also set in Italy and in roughly the same time period, and so was eager to read about the Borgia Pope's machinations in securing his power during that unrest. How could it fail to interest me considering that the character list would include well known historical figures -- Duke Valentino, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Leonardo da Vinci??

I had to really struggle to force myself through the novel. Riddled with Italian words and phrases (I don't speak Italian and it wasn't always obvious what the words meant, read: no translation), I found it very frustrating and boring. Although the story was supposed to be about a Vatican courtesan, Damiata, who is sent to Imola to find out who killed the Pope's son, Juan, the pace was really slow moving and the overwhelming amount of detail detracted from the plot line. Supposedly the murderer is taunting those intent on discovering his identity with riddles, messages, and maps. Meanwhile there is violence, war, witchcraft, and superstition as the unlikely team tries to find the killer even though they each have their own reason for the quest.

This should have been riveting and suspenseful, but mostly it was tedious. The outcome wasn't unexpected and thrills were absent.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls flat, July 11, 2012
This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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This book takes three of the most interesting personages of the Renaissance- Leonardo Da Vinci, Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia, adds in several other real and composite historical figures, entwines them in a story combining real events with a diabolical mystery involving witches and genocide and attempts to find the explication for a seminal intellectual event- the genesis of "The Prince", a book which many believe marks the beginning of modern political theory. Unfortunately in this case all these promising ingredients result in an unfulfilling meal which at best whets your appetite for the real thing.

In considering the failure of this book, I think the major one is that it is fiction with the pretension of history[or perhaps history pretending to be fiction is more apt] - and therefore any real suspense is almost impossible if you know anything about these actual events. There are several places where Machiavelli is endangered, yet if you know anything about him, and it would seem to me if you didn't this book would not be appealing to you at all, then you have to know he is never in any real danger. As for the story of Borgia and his adversaries who for a large part of the book engage in a confusing game of cat and mouse- well any attempt to maintain suspense is futile if you know any of the history of Italy at this time.

Since this is true of all the main characters, other than a courtesan who the author explains is part real and part amalgam, a story like this is constrained in its literary license, and therefore it should be an interesting character study that fleshes out personalities- like "The Agony and the Ecstasy" did for Michaelangelo. Yet here again the author fails. DaVinci, one of the most multifaceted geniuses in history is depicted as a sort of absent minded professor who covers his groin when he is lying, and Machiavelli, a man who is credited with discerning the modern mind in many ways, is depicted as a lovelorn minor functionary who is ensnared by the courtesan and has his life changed forever for the better by this prostitute with a heart of gold. Sounds silly- and it is.

This book does have its good points- the author is effective in evoking the times and places, though sometimes he goes a little over the top. And the book does carry you along, even though the motivations and reasons which animate the characters become convoluted and overtaxed to the point where you may find yourself wondering why events are unfolding as they are.

Unfortunately the final denouement is all too expected, and if you are like me you will find yourself saying- "that's it?". The anticipation that somehow the author would pull a transcendental experience out of his hat is disappointed, and instead this hybrid of history and fiction fails at both counts. Sometimes the whole is less than the sum of its parts- a mathematical conundrum the real Da Vinci would have enjoyed pondering.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible, October 10, 2012
This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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I slogged through 270 pages of this rubbish, before skimming the next 100 and reading over the last few chapters. What could have been an intriguing concept turned into a disaster of a novel. I was excited about the idea of Machiavelli and DaVinci teaming up to solve murders and a Borgia conspiracy, but it was so tedious, it couldn't hold my interest. The characters weren't even engaging. Machiavelli brooded too much over philosophical quandaries, constantly reflecting on "Fortune," and DaVinci was portrayed as a scatter-brained eccentric. They follow Valentino's court from city to city, but more of nothing happens despite their location. The intrigue in 16th century Italy was just a lot of back-stabbing (sometimes literally), then more theoretical rambling, and I. Was. So. Bored.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for Readers Sensitive to Misogynistic Murder as a Plot Contrivance, January 25, 2013
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This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
I purchased this book because I like sophisticated historical fiction but I wish I had known that the characters and murder plot were beyond belief and repellant. It is a page turner, but I HATED having to find out what would happened next. The reason that I despised the book is that I could not suspend belief regarding the characters of Nicolo Maciavelli (easier) and Leonardo Da Vinci (past difficult). The book centers on events in renaisance Italy that have an historical basis, but the reader has to accept that two of the principal characters investigate a series of sadistic murders of women in which their body parts are butchered while they are alive under the influence of hallucinigens used in withcraft. The detail in which their body parts/torture are described is misogynistic. Further confounding any reader sensitive to the loving details of female dismenberment- their body parts are laid out in an elaborate geometric pattern for DaVinci to plot based on instruments and Archimedes. The worst part of the book is this unnecessary plot contrivance. Warfare in renaisance Italy WAS brutal and the Borgias have documentation for sadism, etc. I believe the author wanted to contrast the sociopathy of Cesare Borgia with that of a serial killer. Ennis hss recently read psychological nonfiction on the psychopaths among us. I believe this book would have worked better if it had only explained Cesare Borgia's actual political machinations and documented murders, etc. It could even have had plot elements based on speculation about the Borgias- but the sadism of the hypothetical geometric murder plot expresses a contempt for women that is disheartening for some(?) modern readers. The explanation of elements in Machiavelli's The Prince and the parallel made to today's sociopaths would have worked without trying to engage the reader in mysogynistic brutality as an element of the plot- fearing that another main character- a courtesan, would be similarly dismembered. Many authors try to sell books based on suspension of disbelief and disregard for the worth of women's lives- but I could not find this pathetic string of murders and /Machiavelli's/ DaVinci's involvement believable- I wish the author had used another plot contrivance. Again, I can say that ---although I followed it to the conclusion- I truely HATED this book and two-thirds of the way through started hoping that it would end sooner.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling and creative possible history!, July 18, 2012
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This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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Pope Alexander VI (aka Rodrigo Borgia), Duke Valentino (aka Cesare Borgia), Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci are the cast of characters in Michael Ennis' The Malice of Fortune. Rounded out by whores, mercenaries, peasants, merchants and witches, this cast of characters will not disappoint.

Those interested in the Renaissance, art history, or history reimagined will enjoy this historical novel. I found myself pleasantly at home among the characters and ideas of the time. I was even able to detect his use of Pietro Aretino's Dialogues in the text! And for those who are not familiar, please do not be discouraged. Ennis provides a map, dramatis personae, a portion of William Harrison Addington's "Cesare Borgia: A Study of the Renaissance," and an author's note at the conclusion. Ennis sets up every reader nicely with background and setting to prepare you.

Ennis provides thorough research through his skilled use of language. His words flow and carry you throughout the story with such imagery and descriptions to feel, smell, taste, hear, and see all that is happening in the words on the page. Ennis is also able to create real suspense. He creates a plausible history to join with what we are certain happened. He explains reasons for people's decisions and the course of history with his imaginative adaptation of primary sources.

This is a wonderful novel full of imagination. There are some slow parts, but nothing too discouraging. I highly recommend it!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over-Complicated Mystic Map-crap, September 29, 2012
By 
Mary Ann Hauckes (Seminole, FL United States) - See all my reviews
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Apparently a Dan Brown wannabe, a ridiculously over-complicated puzzle map joined to drug-addicted gypsy witchcraft, murder by dismemberment nonsense with some historical characters thrown in. No way to suspend disbelief on this one!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sixteenth Century Serial Killer..., October 29, 2012
This review is from: The Malice of Fortune (Hardcover)
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"...whomever I love is cursed by Fortune, because out of malice ... she snatches them away..." Speaking to Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the two narrators of Michael Ennis' "The Malice of Fortune," Damiata's words emphasize her belief, as a sixteenth century Italian citizen, that one's fate is controlled by Fortune. This theme ran throughout the text. A courtesan and the second narrator of the novel, Damiata had been the mistress of the murdered Juan Borgia, brother of Cesare Borgia and son of Pope Alexander VI.

Tasked by Pope Alexander VI to discover the assassin of his favorite son Juan, Damiata and Machiavelli become embroiled in solving the mystery multiple brutal murders. In each case the woman's body was dismembered and left at different compass points. Raising the stakes for Damiata is the fact that her son by Juan Borgia is being held by Pope Alexander VI until the time his son's assassin is found.

"The Malice of Fortune" contains fascinating historical characters and highlights a period of history that contains all the elements necessary to create a captivating tale. Even though this novel held great promise, I felt it never quite reached its full potential. I found myself engrossed at one point, only to become restless at the tedium of a subsequent portion.

Michael Ennis does do a commendable job of providing glimpses into this fascinating period of history. The discussions of the roles and choices, or lack thereof, available to women; the detailing of the belief in witchcraft and Fortune roles in the lives of ordinary people; and the fascinating historical characters involved in "The Malice Of Fortune" held my interest enough to allow me to finish the novel. Were it possible to award 3.5 stars, that would be the rating this book would receive; since it is not possible to do so, "The Malice of Fortune" receives 4 stars.
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The Malice of Fortune
The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis (Hardcover - September 11, 2012)
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