You think you've got problems? Prince Scipione of Viverra, his treasury depleted by the siege of Mascia, turns to alchemy in a desperate attempt to replenish his stores of gold, calling down the wrath of Brother Ambrogio, the tame firebrand invited to court by Scipione's mother to preach against vanity. The prince is preoccupied with keeping a wary eye on freelance mercenary Gatta, who took Mascia for him, but he has troubles closer to home: His hostage, Donato Landucci, is plying Scipione's wife, Princess Isotta, with aphrodisiacs; his son Francesco alternates between carefree whoring and renouncing the princedom; and somebody, inevitably, is trying to kill him. Though Scipione's life is repeatedly and miraculously spared, other intimates of the court -- the flirtatious Ginevra Matarazza, the Venetian ambassador Signor Loredano, the lovesick Landucci -- are not so lucky. So it's up to soldier of fortune Sigismondo (Curtains for the Cardinal, 1993, etc.), first employed to report on Gatta's siege of Mascia, to sort out the intrigues and keep the prince in power -- while avoiding the three cousins who are trying to kill Sigismondo himself. Less earnestly didactic than Sigismondo's earlier adventures, but still aswirl in enough Machiavellian plots, moonlit assignations, treacherous hirelings, and summary beheadings to keep you bedazzled in a perpetual haze of Renaissance chiaroscuro.