There’s no rest for a late-Renaissance Venetian. When there’s a lull in making a fortune or harassing the infidel, there’s always an intrigue to be made against some other Venetian.
Business executive and debut author Quinn nicely captures the greed-is-good aspect of 15th-century Venetian culture. Explains the swashbuckling Antonio Ziani, who commands a crack marine unit but has had a bit of bad luck and is now the prisoner of an ever-inquisitive Turkish governor, “Our first religion is business. We believe in God, but we do not allow our religious beliefs to force us to do things that make no sense.” That ever-pragmatic Venetian way of life does not preclude Antonio from running off and storming well-defended Turkish positions and doing other brave but questionable things, which proves a source of trouble. Rival Venetian Giovanni Soranzo—of whom, with characteristic portentousness, Quinn writes, “His large forehead made his dominating icy-blue eyes seem smaller, but their menacing gaze disarmed nearly everyone who felt their power”—is pretty sure, for instance, that Ziani has gotten his brother Marco killed for no good reason, and he’s bent on revenge. There’s plenty of time for them to hash out their differences, for the two have years’ worth of work to do in containing the nasty Ottomans, who have conquered Byzantium and are now licking their chops at the prospect of sacking Venice itself. Quinn’s Ottomans are depicted as hungry, and very badly behaved, people who don’t keep their word, except in order to be evilly ironic. Lest anyone miss the point, Quinn suggests in an afterword that modern Americans just might be latter-day Venetians in the face of advancing Islam, forced to “fight alone against their terrible and powerful adversary as they strive to preserve freedom and their way of life.” The dialogue is flat, the set pieces predictable, but Quinn has a good command of period history and accoutrements: think Tom Clancy channeled for those thrilled by galleons and exploding minarets.
As history, okay. As polemic, obvious. As historical fiction, merely so-so.