Friday, September 14, 2012

The Malice of Fotune by Michael Ennis

Art historian and author Michael Ennis' novel The Malice of Fortune deals with chaotic early 16th century Italy. Two historical figures, well-known Machiavelli and little-known Diamata, a courtesan, narrate the unfolding events surrounding the infamous Borgia family. There is Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) and his two sons, Juan and Valentino (Cesare Borgia.) The killing of Juan and the identity of his murderer becomes the pivotal focus of the narration. It is a complicated, labyrinthine story with elements of mystery, science, witchcraft and gruesome psychopathic behavior.

Ennis did lengthy, primary source research for his book. He deals with the psychological aspect of people and the nature of good, evil and fortuna - fortune - fate. Ennis demonstrates that Machiavelli was history's first forensic profiler, entering lives of historic figures in mental conversations to "ask them the reasons for their actions" transporting "myself into them entirely." While Machiavelli's famous book The Prince used Cesare Borgia a possible model for leadership, he was also aware of Borgia's malevolent nature and misused power. In his notes at the end of the book Ennis writes that Machiavelli preferred a more democratic, people-powered, representative approach to government which Machiavelli explored in his lesser known work Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy.

The Malice of Fortune is not light reading. While the book could be shortened, it was interesting to get a sense of the period and the history behind Machiavelli's The Prince. Ennis' book is a cautionary tale, a fictionalized interpretation of real people and events. It is filled with twists of deception, depravity and a dark sense of the ever-recurring presence of evil. Perhaps it is fitting that its publication date was 9/11/12.

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