Reviewed by Colleen Turner
Florence in the 1520s finds the Medici family in power. Pope Clement VII is bestowing his own administration and giving little power to the citizens who long for the reestablishment of a Republican body of government. With Charles VIII of Spain and Francois I of France again battling for Italian lands, many, including Battista della Palla, hope the French can help bring about their independence. The French King has made it clear to Battista, his art agent, that the people of Florence can rely on his help if Battista, in turn, collects for him what great works of art he desires.
Battista is glad to do the King’s bidding, at whatever costs, if it will ultimately mean some peace and independence for his people. But when the King sends Battista an urgent letter, stating he must find the ultimate artifact that will guarantee power beyond all others to the man who wields it, he gives little clue as to how Battista will acquire it. As Battista and his band of loyal men dig deeper they discover they must go on a quest for the relic, using the words of Dante and the artistic images of Giotto as their guide.
The men are confident their search must start at the Palazzo of Mantua but Battista soon finds himself under attack by the guards. When a mysterious woman comes to his rescue, whisking him to the safety of the woods, he is grateful but wary of her assistance. When she discovers a scroll Battista pilfered from the Palazzo, she promises to assist him on his adventure, as long as he takes her with him.
Aurelia has spent her life sheltered as the warden of the Marquess of Mantua and longs for freedom and independence to see what life can bring beyond the walls of the Palazzo. When she finds Battista injured and desperate she realizes he is her way of escape. In his current state he won’t have room for complaint and he might find her of use in his search.
Aurelia soon ingratiates herself in the band of brothers and jumps right in as they find the three places they must venture to for the pieces of Giotto’s triptych: they must travel to “Hell” at the hedonistic Palazzo Prato, through “Purgatory” in the grottos of the Ciociaria mountains and finally to the “Heaven” that awaits them at the heights of the Castello della Dragonara. But Battista continues to wonder how much he can trust Aurelia’s help as she seems to know more about their search than she lets on. And as Aurelia continues on their adventure, she must indeed decide how much of herself to reveal to Battista. As they grow closer together the ultimate price looms near and Aurelia must finally reveal who she really is, something that will change everything they have come this far to discover.
I found this book to be a true gem. The King’s Agent mixes heavy doses of history with mysticism, adventure and romance. The writing is beautiful and, while it is not an easy or fast read, I found myself taking my time and relishing the beautiful language. There are many components to the story so the reader needs to pay attention and really use their wits to stay present in the story. While I really enjoyed the mystical aspect I can see how some sticklers of history might find this aspect to venture a little too far outside their comfort zone. As I am always happy to find new twists to history and historical fiction I loved it.
For those who love lyrical writing and a story that tests the reader along with the characters The King’s Agent is a must read. For readers who are looking for a fast touch of history or one that stays within well traveled roads, this might not be for you.
Also by Donna Russo Morin: To Serve a King
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Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Kensington Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.