It’s Venice, 1498. The dawn of the Renaissance, when the conflict between knowledge and religion is at its peak. The Catholic Church has ultimate control; peasants are ignorant and suspicious. In the midst of all this, there are rumors of a book, one that has a love potion, or an elixir of life, or the formula to turn metal into gold. With it, someone could have great power, and so those in power are searching for it.
This is not the story of the book, or at least not directly. It’s the story of Luciano, an orphan street-rat who was plucked out of his life by the doge’s chef and into the life of a chef’s apprentice. He wants the book, convinced that it will make his life better. Except that the deeper he gets into his new life, the more he realizes that getting the book is not the point.
That’s the basic gist of the plot, but it’s really not an easy one to pin down. There is one, and there is character development, but about a third of the way in, one realizes that plot is not the point of the book. The book works more like a tapestry: rich, lush, gorgeous, layers upon layers. The plot is only the nails to hang the tapestry of the words on the wall. The things that stand out in this novel are not the characters, or even what happens — though the homage to knowledge and the Guardians of such was quite fascinating — but, rather the descriptions. From the food to the streets of Venice, it is all very sensuous, very evocative. Like the tapestry, it sometimes gets overly busy, and even a tad sparse and slow at other times, but overall, the effect is stunning.
Rated: Mild (nothing really stands out to make it a mild, but it’s definitely not a none.)