The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newark (Black Swan)
It's 1498 and street boy Luciano runs into a bit of unexpected luck while stealing a pomegranate. Rather than being hauled off for punishment, Chef Ferrero - the greatest chef in Venice - takes him under his wing and gives him work at the doge's palace.
Between working gruelling hours carrying water, scrubbing the kitchen and (eventually) being allowed to peel vegetables – a promotion in the kitchens – the nosy boy takes in as much of the chef's wisdom as possible.
Luciano is settling comfortably into his role as protégé, when his imagination is sparked by the rumours swirling in Venice about an ancient book with the secrets of immeasurable power. But Luciano's street buddy, Marco, is convinced the chef is hiding all he knows about the mystical tome.
Could Marco's instinct be right? Will Luciano uncover the tome which hold's powerful alchemic secrets? And what is Chef Ferrero really hiding?
The image of Venice that the author creates is so far removed from the romantic clichés which we have become accustomed to, that it's impossible not to be intrigued anew with the city. For Luciano, Venice is a brutal, dangerous city full of dark corners and harsh realities.
His sole hope to escape the streets is Chef Ferrero, and he finds it's a tenuous position to be in: on the one hand, this is the ultimate opportunity for him, but on the flipside, he has to place all his faith in the chef.
The pair's mentoring relationship could be likened to an awkward dance – it's a case of one step forward, two steps back as they learn to trust each other. It certainly doesn't help that Luciano's inquisitive mind gets the better of him, landing him in trouble with the chef.
I would normally never look twice at a historical book like this – I suppose I've been stuck in contemporary, fluffy chicklit for too long – but Newmark's writing is undeniably seductive. Her protagonist is a surprising choice but it's his innocent curiosity and street-smart quick-thinking that make the book exceptional.
The food-obsessed will marvel at the descriptions of the meals that Chef Ferrero prepares, and lovers of mystery will enjoy unravelling the secrets of the tome that has Venice abuzz. The Book of Mischief makes for delectable reading.
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Have you read any of Elle Newark's books yet? Which of her books are your favourite?
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