A historical novel tells the story of a soldier caught in the center of a Vatican-sanctioned plot against the Medicis.
It’s 1478 in Florence. Giovan Battista da Montesecco, the captain of the Apostolic Palace Guard and commandant of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, sits in a prison cell atop the city’s great clock tower, forced to write a confession of how he conspired to murder the leaders of Florence’s greatest family. Flash back to a year earlier: along with two of the pope’s favored nephews, Giovan plots to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici—known as Lorenzo the Magnificent—as well as his attractive and popular brother Giuliano. The aging Giovan’s complicity is based solely on the plot’s approval by his master, Pope Sixtus IV, who informs the conflicted captain that “we will absolve you for everything if you rid us of Lorenzo and his brother.” Still grieving from the death of his only son in battle, Giovan finds himself in an unlikely role for one so late in life: that of Lorenzo’s assassin. The story that unfolds takes the reader from Rome to Florence, Pisa to Constantinople, knitting together a struggle of power, intrigue, and revenge against the backdrop of one of history’s most dramatic epochs. The reader experiences the story from the point of view of other characters as well, including Fioretta Gorini, the mistress of the handsome Giuliano, and Thadeous of Constantinople, a Greek tutor who survived the conquest of his native city 25 years earlier and now serves as instructor to one of the pope’s nephews in Pisa. Van Roekel (Prisoner Moon, 2012, etc.) summons the milieu of Renaissance Italy with expert detail, and the novel is full of the sort of cameos that fans of historical fiction love—at one point, Giovan nearly gets in a swordfight with Botticelli inside the still-under-construction Sistine Chapel. The pope says to Giovan, “My dear Captain, we hope you let that young man live. He does have talent.” Intricate and gripping, the book keeps the reader racing along with Giovan and company all the way to the bloody end.
An ambitious and engrossing tale of Renaissance Italy.