Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, January 10, 2011

"The Ground is Burning" by Samuel Black

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

Yum. Samuel Black, I WANT MORE!


Universe in Words said...

Whooo! Sounds great!!
my email is logisch.he(at)gmail(dot)com.
I'm a new follower!!

BTW: hop over to my blog and take part in the 'Quote to begin my Week'! I want to turn it into a weekly thing, so let me know whether you like it!!

SusieBookworm said...

Looks great! Thanks for the giveaway! I love historical fiction!

susanna dot pyatt at student dot rcsnc dot org

Lesa said...

Throw me in the pot too!

farmlanebooks said...

It does sound like the sort of book I'd love. Count me in too :-)

jackie @ farmlanebooks .

Jodi said...

Who could resist Italy?

webbJM AT verizon DOT net

PatD said...

Oh, me too, please.


Posting your site to

Daphne said...

Thanks for stopping by and letting my know about the giveaway - I would love to be entered!!


mummazappa said...

ooh I'd love a copy, this sounds really interesting. Finger's crossed!

Kathy said...

I sure wish I could send a copy to each one of you! :)

I'll post the winner's name here at the end of the month, and send an email notification to her (or him? though no hims have signed up yet).

Collect Dreams said...

Sounds amazing! I'm new to blogging,and have got slightly obsessed by making lists of all the awesome books I want to read (as if my to read pile wasn't huge enough already!). Love the giveaways going on!
Email is

Taylor said...

Thanks for directing me to your site and this intriguing book! I would love the chance to win this one Kathy! Thanks for the giveaway! Oh and thanks for following me and I followed you back! :)


Natasha Areena said...

"Anyone is eligible" means this is international hah? If yes i would love to entered.

Thanks. :)

Kathy said...

Yep, Natasha, international too!

Good luck to you all!

Kay said...

I'm not sure how I missed this, Kathy, but count me in. Sounds delicious.


Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I, too, am a sucker for anything related to Italy. Please enter me in for this fabulous giveaway :)

coffeeandabookchick at gmail dot com

DeLynne said...

Being an Italian teacher, I think this is just the sort of fiction I should be reading. It sounds great. How clever of you to get an interview with the author!


Kathy said...

The winner is . . . Jackie at Farm Lane Books! I do hope the rest of you get a chance to read this book. I'm looking forward to hearing what others think of it.