Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Unholy Book of Mischief by Elle Newmark

The Book of Unholy Mischief is I’ll admit a book I picked up almost entirely because of the name. It is a good name to have. Then I read the blurb and was intrigued yet again. This is the blurb:

“For centuries the people of Venice have been seeking an extraordinary book, rumoured to contain the key to immeasurable power: Now in the year 1498, mischievous street orphan Luciano stumbles across a secret that others will kill for…”

There is also an excerpt posted above that that I feel should also be posted:

‘Are you sure Luciano, was the man truly dead?’

‘Yes, Maestro.’

‘Other states can be mistaken for death.’

‘Maestro he was poisoned. I saw his eyes. Dead as stone.’

‘Oh, Dio.’ The chef put his head in his hands. ‘It’s begun.’

Luciano, the main character, is a street urchin who is definitely more loveable than certain others. He is taken away from the street and offered an apprenticeship by the best chef in the city of Venice and remarkably this is never fully explained but never seems like deus ex machina either. The whole story is full of surpising elements but never seems unbelievable, which I found myself very impressed by. On a more general note, there’s always something in every book, I think, that makes you cringe a little when you think about. A metaphor that’s too grand for what it’s trying to achieve (worse when it’s a euphemism for sex >.<) but nothing sticks out from this book. It's the most cringe-free book I can ever remember reading. Luciano slowly learns more about the chef that mysteriously rescued him and begins to link him with talk of the mysterious book that the Doge is so desperate to get his hands on. The Doge is dying of syphilis and wants to be cured and it's rumoured that the book has a recipe for the Elixr of Immortality. Luciano also feels guilty about leaving his ‘big brother’ Marco on the streets while he is fed and clothed and has a place to sleep. He is also madly in love with a novice nun called Francesca. He is a very believable character, and while reckless and childish not at all as annoying as certain others.

Chef Ferrero (monsieur!) is a brilliant character. I’d never really considered the idea of a zen chef, particularly not an Italian one, but he is. I’m not going to be a giant spoiler face, but he’s one of the most admirable characters I’ve ever seen ever. It would have been so easy to tell it from his perspective and have it be a total Mary-Sue book, but it’s done really cleverly. Luciano suspects his motives for hiring him, then grows suspicious because of Marco’s suspicious jealous bitching but only comes to really appreciate him near the end. It’s nice to see him be fully realised in stages rather than “OMG! This is my mentor. Isn’t he just the best? He’s the best and he’s teaching me so I’mma be the best.” Apparently he was inspired by the author’s father. I’m gunna write to him and see if he feels like adopting a crazy English redhead and teaching her how to cook. Luciano’s several attempts to make something to impress the cook are also very sweet. The descriptions of food are also gut-achingly wonderful. I often found myself snacking after reading about one of The Doge’s feasts.

Another thing that the author does well and not many do do well in my opinion is use bits of another language to colour the story with the feel of Italy. She uses Italianisms often, but not too much. They don't feel forced in there to be like "REMEMBER THIS IS ITALY YOU GUYS!" but it's just a very consistent yet very subtle way of keeping you in Italy.

There are a million messages in this book, the power of good food, the worthlessness of religion, the importance of knowledge (that’s just three, but I’m hardly likely to reveal all million of them, duh). It’s also really exciting and there are people with funny names. As if that alone isn’t incentive enough. Why on EARTH haven’t you bought it yet? Get to it!

Here are the meagre TWO reviews on the cover. It deserves far more in my opinion:

“Rumour, court machinations, and a rattling good plot.” Woman & Home

Yes. I can’t think of a less helpful review to have put on the cover, but there we are.

“Full of twisting passageways, tapestries complete with spy holes an all manner of skullduggery.” New Books Magazine

It is indeed.

The reviews on the cover make me a sad panda. I am not capable of heaping enough praise on this thing. I love it and it may find itself on my favourites shelf. Luciano is this really believable little guy and nothing seems false even though the authors note extensively lists things that she took liberty with or that she made up completely. She justifies it (unnecessarily as far as I’m concerned, but I’m not a pedantic historian), by saying that she just wanted to tell a good tale.

Mission accomplished!

I give it 5 Mell-heads