**One of the best historical novels that has come my way for a long time -- and a big advance in holding power over Shellabarger's own Captain from Castille. The comparison with Samuels' Web of Lucifer is inevitable, so here are the points of similarity and of contrast- for the market for the one may well provide the market for the other. The period is virtually the same:- Italy at the time when Cesare Borgia was posing as Italy's liberator, while actually he employed every force of evil and corruption to make himself dictator over every hilltop village. In each book the hero of the story is a peasant risen to heights as a lieutenant of the Borgias, but where Giacomo Orso of the Samuels' book has deliberately built his career on a foundation of revenge- and who late in that career discovers that he has taken as master the man he is seeking, Andrea Orsini has concealed his Romagna peasant background, posed as member of a great family, and faced the knowledge of the duplicity of the Borgias while accepting with some degree of equanimity his own role as a double dealer, serving- for his own ends- two masters. The Samuels' book gives, perhaps, a richer tapestry of life in Italy; the Shellabarger book is superb story telling, a swashbuckling melodrama in the cloak and dagger tradition. There are sharply etched vignettes of the Borgias, the d'Estes- of lords and ladies, princes and villains, of the saintly ruler of Citta del Monte and his lovely young wife, Camilla Baglione, who became the star in Andrea's horizon. Andrea is as complex a character as his century could fashion:- courtier, adventurer, mercenary soldier of fortune, a ladies' man who broke many hearts, a diplomat trusted with intricate manoeuvres regarding the hand of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, an artist whose technique rivalled that of his idol, Mantogna, and whose secret life took him to a remote monastery to paint a mural for sheer joy in the painting. A fast paced story, with-for me at least, none of the slowdowns of Captain of Castille, a story with all the lusty play of swords and intrigue one could ask of that period- with more of romance, and with good sense of theatre. Not, possibly, as important a book as Web of Lucifer in its symbolism, its parallels to the Hitler regime, but as grand a bit of story telling as any reader seeking escape at a worthwhile level of reading interest could demand.