The Book of Unholy Mischief – Elle Newmark

Title: The Book of Unholy Mischief
Author: Elle Newmark
ISBN: 1416590544
Pages: 384
Release Date: December 30, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the dust jacket:

It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist’s dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the long-buried secrets scrawled in its pages and where it could possibly be hidden within the labyrinthine city. But while those who seek the book will stop at nothing to get it, those who know will die to protect it.

As a storm of intrigue and desire circles the republic that grew from the sea, Luciano, a penniless orphan with a quick wit and an even faster hand, is plucked up by an illustrious chef and hired, for reasons he cannot yet begin to understand, as an apprentice in the palace kitchen. There, in the lavish home of the most powerful man in Venice, he is initiated into the chef’s rich and aromatic world, with all its seductive ingredients and secrets.

Luciano’s loyalty to his street friends and the passion he holds for a convent girl named Francesca remain, but it is not long before he, too, is caught up in the madness. After he witnesses a shocking murder in the Palace dining room, he realizes that nothing is as it seems and that no one, not even those he’s come to rely on most, can be trusted. Armed with a precocious mind and an insatiable curiosity, Luciano embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth. What he discovers will swing open the shutters of his mind, inflame his deepest desires, and leave an indelible mark on his soul.

Rich with the luxurious colors and textures of Venice, The Book of Unholy Mischief delights the senses and breathes fresh life into an age defined by intellectual revival and artistic vibrancy. A luminous and seductive novel, it is, at its heart, a high-spirited tribute to the fruits of knowledge and the extraordinary power of those who hold its key. In a world of violence and in trigue, who guards the truth?

I hadn’t heard much about The Book of Unholy Mischief one way or another, but when the opportunity came up to read it through the Twitter Book Club sponsored by Atria Books, I jumped at the chance. After all, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and having just traveled to Venice, I definitely was up for reading a book about it.

The thing that struck me most about The Book of Unholy Mischief was its sensory details. Luciano is an apprentice in a kitchen and describes the dishes his master makes in exquisite detail. The author’s descriptions are superb and will stir your tastebuds; it is a good idea to have some food handy while reading this novel! The descriptions of Venice are also very good and evoke the time period well. Through Newmark’s excellent details, it is easy to close your eyes and imagine that you are skulking around with Luciano in Renaissance-era Venice.

I thought the way “the book” was treated was exceptionally interesting and very creative. The entire novel is built up around the mystery of what “the book” is and everyone’s quest to find it. I did enjoy discovering the truth behind it, and I’m glad it came when it did – too often, the discovery of mysteries such as this are left to the very end of the novel. I liked the fact that Luciano finds out the truth behind “the book” about 3/4 of the way through The Book of Unholy Mischief because it gives the novel a chance to become something else entirely. I do have to say, though, I was a little confused as to how knowledge could be deciphered through the codes of “the book,” though I won’t say any more because of the risk of giving away too much!

I also enjoyed the character of Luciano. He is a confused young man who has been given a chance to change his life. However, he still has loyalties to his old friends on the street and isn’t sure why he was chosen for this prestigious apprenticeship. Yes, he listens to people he shouldn’t and doubts the chef – his flaws are as much on the surface as is the birthmark on his face. But he is a complex and multi-layered character, and it is nice to see him prove that he is worthy of the trust the chef has put in him.

The Book of Unholy Mischief is a great read that any fan of historical fiction would enjoy. I look forward to seeing what Elle Newmark does next!


  1. That book sounds wonderful.

  2. I’ve seen this one around a bit and would love to read it. Great review.

  3. I enjoyed this one, too!

  4. I have this on my stack to read – now I can’t wait to get to it!

  5. I requested an ARC of this one, but didn’t get it. I’m glad to hear it was good!

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