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The Malice of Fortune Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 11, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Exclusive Essay by Author Michael Ennis

Michael Ennis

I began The Malice of Fortune with the rather modest ambition of writing a novel that featured Machiavelli as a detective; perhaps he could use the precepts of The Prince to solve a crime. As I dove into my research, I soon took particular interest in the closing months of the year 1502, when Machiavelli was a junior Florentine diplomat at the court of Cesare Borgia, the celebrated "Duke Valentino," who at the time was playing this deadly political chess game against a cabal of mercenary warlords known as the condottieri--a bloody political drama that Machiavelli would later place at the very center of The Prince.

Although Valentino's court was located in the remote fortress city of Imola during those final months of 1502, it attracted all sorts of interesting and nefarious characters, among them the Duke's innovative military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci. And after a little more digging, I discovered some intriguing connections between Leonardo and Machiavelli: they both abruptly left Duke Valentino's court shortly after the end of the year, under circumstances that historians have never fully understood, and then worked quite closely together in Florence. So clearly some mysterious and fraught relationship developed between them in Imola.

Still thinking in terms of a detective story, I envisioned something akin to a Holmes & Holmes partnership. Leonardo, who famously dissected corpses, could be a Renaissance forensic pathologist. As for Machiavelli, his political science is so deeply rooted in the study of human nature that he can also be considered a pioneer in the field of psychology. In fact, I was rather startled to learn that at the time he was working on The Prince, Machiavelli wrote a friend that when he entered his study, he imagined himself physically in the presence of prominent figures from history: "I converse with them and interrogate them about the motives for their actions. And they answer me--I get inside them completely." This sounded so uncannily like a modern criminal profiler that I just couldn't resist pushing the detective conceit a step further.

So here I started searching for a crime, but one based entirely on documented fact; if Leonardo's and Machiavelli's forensic abilities could be found in their actual studies, the crime – and the criminal – had to be equally authentic. I pored over five hundred year old cold cases and instead of just one crime, I discovered an entire "crime cluster" that began with the murder of the Pope's son in Rome, followed by a horrifying litany of related abductions, rapes, mutilations, and murders. As for the suspects, several powerful, violent men, most of them these mercenary condottieri, could be circumstantially linked to all the crimes. More remarkably still, each of these suspects is mentioned specifically by name in The Prince, all of them having played leading roles in the events at the end of 1502 – and all of them were known personally by both Leonardo and Machiavelli.

This evidence brought my sleuthing-geniuses premise squarely back into the domain of documented history: I had discovered a true crime story – involving, as it turns out, a brilliant serial killer--interlaced with one of history's pivotal political events. Although this was a story Machiavelli, for very good reasons, decided to keep to himself, The Prince contains artifacts of it, once you know what you are looking for. As Machiavelli confesses to us at the beginning of his narrative, there is a "terrifying secret I deliberately buried between the lines of The Prince." The words are my creation, but they are based on admissions that Machiavelli made later in his life. The truth that can be found between the lines of The Prince – a revelation of man's capacity for evil far more ghastly than anything Machiavelli wrote explicitly in the text--is no mere fictional invention. With consequences that have resounded throughout the subsequent course of Western culture and history, the dreadful secret of The Prince is all too real.  


“Epic… This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, with which it is sure to be compared.” —Kirkus (starred review)

"Absorbing and intelligent... Fans of superior historical mystery writers such as Steven Saylor and Laura Jo Rowland will be enthralled." —Publishers Weekly (boxed, starred review)

“A hefty novel about the politics of 16th-century Italy [that] reads like a pulpy mystery… A thrilling whodunit—and a pretty good primer on da Vinci’s ‘science of observation’ as well as Machiavelli’s ‘science of man.’” —Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly

“Ennis is an uncommonly graceful writer and a conscientious researcher… his story zips along, a pleasure.” —Charles Finch, USA Today

“Ennis bring[s] multiple layers of authenticity to his epic novel. It’s a heady mix of “The Da Vinci Code,” Borgia politics and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Think of it as CSI: Italy circa 1502, with Machiavelli as a detective and psychological profiler and da Vinci as history’s first forensic pathologist.” —Christian DuChateau, CNN

“An intricate murder mystery and political thriller [with] a heartrending love story… Like the best historical fiction, the novel transports the reader entirely elsewhere.” —Laura Pearson, Time Out Chicago

“Intricate, rewarding… The Malice of Fortune is reminiscent of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose in that the intrigue is rich and is inextricably entwined in its world. Amid these walls of power the reader no more loses sight of the danger of the game than of the need to solve the puzzle. The novel works not just because it is a finely wrought history but because the characters are of their time while transcending it.” —Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post

“A novel that ranks among the best with the Italian Renaissance setting…. The narrative brims with minor details that convey authenticity and authority over the material…. Ennis brings the characters alive with impassioned dialogue.” —David Hendricks, San Antonio Express

“Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli join their considerable forces in this teeming historical thriller… They make an exceptional team.” —Sheryl Connelly, New York Daily News

“With its vivid, well-defined array of characters, The Malice of Fortune captures the glorious and gritty details of Renaissance Italy in a propulsive story. Ennis has achieved a great accomplishment, historical fiction that places us right into the characters' present.” —Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Technologists

The Malice of Fortune is more than a thriller--it's a tender love story, a grim exploration of the nature of human evil, and an immersive tour of Renaissance Italy as courageous, perceptive young Niccolo Machiavelli fights for his life against ruthless Borgia factions.  A novel written with gusto, panache, and intellectual rigor.” —Lyndsay Faye, author of Gods of Gotham and Dust and Shadows

"A true masterpiece... Michael Ennis has poured the knowledge and wisdom of many lifetimes into the exquisite form of a mystery so dark, so labyrinthine.  The Malice of Fortune is stunning, terrifying, and utterly mesmerizing. I can honestly say I never fully appreciated the genius of Machiavelli, or the savagery of the Borgias, until now." —Anne Fortier, author of Juliet

“Michael Ennis bring the Renaissance alive in this tour-de-force: The Malice of Fortune dishes out a simmering stew, thick with chicanery, bloodshed, dastardly deeds, code-breaking, puzzle-solving, and a cast of characters that includes Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini, Cesare Borgia—and Damiata, the real-life courtesan whose brassiness, brains, and beauty dazzle even her employer and nemesis: the Pope.” —Katherine Neville, author of The Eight and The Fire
“For readers who've been waiting all these years for the next The Name of the Rose—here it is. Michael Ennis brings a scholar’s mind and a writer’s heart to this beautifully crafted work of Renaissance intrigue that has a rare quality of feeling ancient and modern at the same time. A powerful thinking-man’s thriller.” —Glenn Cooper, author of Library of the Dead and Book of Souls
“This is a fascinating novel, filled with extraordinary, well-realized historical characters and a plot that is engrossing and wickedly clever. The Malice of Fortune is an excellent, beautifully researched, and well-written novel that has a fine, fine sense of place. It captured my attention up front and kept me turning the pages to the very end." —Douglas Preston, co-author of The Monster of Florence
“Intriguing [and] well-researched...Ennis, a former art-history teacher, is an expert on Renaissance Italy.  Everything in [Malice] is based on actual events and Ennis' fictional conceit - that Machiavelli and da Vinci work together to stop a powerful serial killer - shape[s] Holmes-and-Watson duos out of historical figures.  Having Machiavelli cast in the role of what Ennis calls ‘history's first forensic profiler’ will satisfy those who come for the period ambience.” —Booklist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (September 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780385536318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385536318
  • ASIN: 0385536313
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By audrey frances TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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 in the role of an ill-respected cardinal. Then Juan was murdered and historians debate the identity of the murderer. Did Cesare have a hand in his brother's 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 as confidante to Cesare Borgia he wrote The Prince, which CEOs and military strategists have held in awe for half a millennium, frequently misunderstanding the lessons that Macchiavelli left behind and using it to justify bad behavior.

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.
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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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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