Books like this are why I read.
I'm a sucker for a book about Italy, especially set during the Italian Renaissance, but there's so much more to love about The Ground is Burning. The characters are fascinating, though that's hardly surprising when we're talking about Cesare Borgia, Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The plot is fast-paced and engrossing without sacrificing depth. And then there's the evocative beauty of sentences like this one: "I can smell dead leaves burning somewhere in the distance--that sweet, sad, summer's-end scent."
I must admit that before I started reading this book, I was a teensy bit afraid it might be somewhat dry and dull, mainly because I was (and still am) in the middle of reading a biography on Lucrezia Borgia (Cesare's sister) that has been slow going at times. But I shouldn't have worried. The day I started reading this book I burned my baby's toast and was late to my son's awards assembly. Good book or negligent mother? Well. Probably a little bit of both. But, setting aside my questionable parenting abilities, The Ground is Burning is bursting with life. Events of more than five centuries ago are as fresh as yesterday, and people long dead once again live and breathe within these pages.
One thing that brings the characters to life is the way their unique ambitions are laid bare for the reader. Cesare's motivation is power, wielded aggressively enough to elicit fear and dread in his supporters. Machiavelli, too, wants power, but he is willing to act with much more subtlety and diplomacy. Leonardo strives to create something that will stand the test of time and lead to immortal fame. All three men are similar in their drive to leave a lasting impression (and it's not hard to argue that they succeeded), yet they are written with distinct voices that highlight their very different personalities.
One complaint: I felt like I could detect a modern British voice at times. Would a fifteenth-century Italian teenager really say "sod it"? I could have bought affanculo or whatever the Italian equivalent is. On the other hand, that underlying contemporary feel is responsible in part for the vividly real characters. After all, the book begins with a quote from Machiavelli which says, "If the present be compared with the remote past, it is easily seen that in all cities and in all peoples there are the same desires and the same passions as there always were." I suppose that's a fancier and more verbose way of saying, "there's nothing new under the sun," but it also says the people in this book aren't so very different from YOU.
I want you to read this book, so I am doing a giveaway. You can't have my copy, but if you're the lucky winner I'll buy you your own. Anyone is eligible, unless you are my mom (mainly because Cesare Borgia was a potty mouth, among other slightly scandalous reasons). Leave a comment with your email address before the end of January if you would like a chance to win.
My thanks to Faber for providing me with a proof copy of The Ground is Burning, which will be released on February 3. If you don't win my giveaway, you can purchase your own copy from amazon.co.uk.
Yum. Samuel Black, I WANT MORE!
Now for something completely different…
3 days ago