Giovanni is the nephew of Bartolomeo Scappi, a chef to popes and a man of many secrets. So many secrets that he had two chests of journals, many written with insets of cipher that contained the most ‘delicate’ matters, all left to the nephew Giovanni, along with a house, a small fortune, recipes and a knife, with instructions that he burn all of the journals before curiosity encourages him to read them. An apprentice to his uncle since the age of 19, the now thirty-year-old Giovanni is unable to simply ‘burn’ the journals, and starts to read and uncover secrets that still hold danger for those he knows and loves. King has created a story that is rich in two separate times: Giovanni is describing the now in the year of 1577 after his uncle’s death, while the journals lead us back in time as the first was penned some fifty years earlier, explaining the days and highlights of Barto’s life as a younger man on his way to making a mark on the world. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this story would unfold or read, and to my delight it was wholly captivating and full of the intrigue, gossip, machinations and maneuvers that one would expect, particularly knowing, if in brief, the history of the popes and the ‘nobility’ of Italy. Remember, Bartolomeo’s story is happening just after the Borgia pope Alexander VI, father of Lucretia. Now can you see the ‘dangers’ and jostling that was needed for survival as a chef, and to thrive – it required even more. Most interesting is Giovanni’s relationships that have changed with both the inheritance and his uncovering secrets of his own birth, the lengths to which his uncle Bartolomeo went to protect his own love and secrets, and the unmasking of secrets on the way to finding a new and perhaps more secure and bright future. As little is known factually about Bartolomeo, King’s use of imagination and some clearly well-researched materials brought a story that feels plausible, is studded with many references to real people, places and situations, and ends in ways that feel both possible and affirmative for the resolutions and decisions that Giovanni comes to throughout his discovery of the uncle he thought he knew. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
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