Dave Duncan


This is the third book in the delightful Alchemist series which is set in the Renaissance Venice under the Doge Pietro Moro. Once again, Maestro Nostradamus and his apprentice Alfeo Zeno investigate a murder case.

Alfeo’s lover Violetta, who is also one of the finest courtesans in Venice, calls on the Maestro. She has a case for him: her mentor Lucia has been found dead in one of the canals with all of her jewelry intact. She has been dead and in the water for a few days. However, Nostradamus isn’t interested in the death of an elderly courtesan and he also thinks that the case would be impossible without witnesses or a crime scene. He also thinks that Lucia could have killed herself. As a courtesy, he does allow Alfeo to look into it for a short while.

Alfeo and Violetta start their investigation and find out a few strange things. One of the senators found Lucia’s body and kept her valuables from being stolen, which still means that the purported killer didn’t take them. Then they find out that another courtesan, Katarina, has been killed. Also, an old, sick noble man wanted to tell Nostradamus something after he had heard about Katarina’s murder. Unfortunately, the apparently kind and generous man died before telling anyone what he had wanted to say. How could his death be related to the courtesan’s?

Then Alfeo finds out that a third courtesan has been killed as well and starts to really be worried for Violetta’s sake. It seems clear that someone is killing courtesans and the Maestro decides to investigate after all in order to prevent a future murder. But before Alfeo can do much more, the ruling council of Ten forces him to stop his investigations.

This time Alfeo is plunged to the worlds of both the nobles and the highest paid prostitutes. And, of course, politics because politics belongs into both of those worlds. Violetta is his guide to both of the worlds although she knows more about the world of the courtesans. Alfeo finds out more about her profession than he would want to.

The luxurious Venice is again the backdrop to the story and it shines through in both the culture and the luscious descriptions. We also get some historical info. For example, about the War of the Fists where the working class men vented their aggression and everyone else apparently admired them. However, the history lessons are always pertinent to the story and usually brief.

The characters are again delightful: the crotchety Nostradamus suffers even worse rheumatism than usual and Alfeo tries to earnestly please his lover, and all other young women. Violetta is her enigmatic self: again she shows many facets of herself being in turn a tender lover, a canny politician, or a grieving friend. Many of the prostitutes don’t want to tell their secrets to anyone and the men who come under suspicion aren’t any more forthcoming.

The plot is a complex mystery with many twists.

Overall: an excellent continuation of the series.

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The second book in the excellent historical fantasy series set in Venice. The main character is again Alfeo Zeno who is the apprentice of Filippo Nostradamus.

This time the case starts small: nobleman and former ambassador Zuanbattista Sanudo and his young second wife Eva Morosini pay a visit to the famous astrologer and clairvoyant Filippo Nostradamus. The nobleman’s 15-year-old daughter Grazia is missing. They don’t want any scandal – they just want Nostradamus to find her quickly. The old sage Alfeo both realize quickly that the parents think that their daughter wasn’t kidnapped but eloped with a young lover. This is especially likely when they hear that the girl might be fated to be married to a much older, but rich, man.

Nostradamus takes the case for enormous amount of money and sends Alfeo to find out more about the family and possibly the identity of the young lover. Alfeo heads to his lover, Violetta. She is one of the most expensive courtesans in the city of Venice and therefore knows a great deal about the rich and famous of the city.

Meanwhile, Nostradamus himself performs a clairvoyance to find Grazia. He manages to find out a certain place the next morning. The girl’s parents agree to let Alfeo go and take the girl home.

Much to Alfeo’s surprise Grazia’s companion turns out to be his childhood friend Danese Dolfin. A fight starts but Alfeo stops it quickly. It turns out that he and Maestro Nostradamus were right – Grazia had eloped and then married young Danese. Alfeo is suspicious because he knows that Daense is often up to no good.

Soon, the ruling council of Ten accuse Nostradamus, and Alfeo, of witchcraft. To free themselves of the deadly accusations, the duo has to find a mysterious spy inside Venice herself. The spy is only known as Algol, the Ghoul. He, or she, is selling the secrets of the city to Venice’s enemies. Without even a proper name, finding the spy will be difficult – if not impossible.

Even though Alfeo is a proud young man, he’s also rather charming. He’s curious and smart, and plays by the rules the society has given him. He’s also rather good at persuasion and a good swordsman. The grumpy and irritable Nostradamus has his own charm as well.

I really like the secondary characters. Nostradamus’ servant family, the Angelis, are as delightful as in the previous book, Alchemists’ Apprentice. Giorgio Angeli is a gondolier who knows the city very well. His wife is a very good cook whose life’s mission it is to feed everyone as much as possible. They have a lot of children and their eldest son is considering marriage.

Grazia tries her best to make decisions about her own life and the only way to do that is to try to manipulate everyone around her. Many of the characters have their own motivations and habits instead of just responding to the main characters’ actions.

The historical Venice is delightfully well done. The descriptions are rich and almost take over the story but fits nicely in with the Venetian atmosphere.

The plot isn’t very fast-paced but this book isn’t a thriller, either. The pace is just right for the story, though.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Here’s my latest review: Dave Duncan’s Ill met in the Arena.

I gave it five stars from five although I had some minor quibbles with things like genetics not working that way. But since we’re talking about the genetics of psionic abilities I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Another first in a series – audiobook. This is set in the historical Venice and even though it’s listed as fantasy, it has only one fantasy element. I really liked the setting of Renaissance Venice. This is also a mystery story where the amateur detective has to find the murderer.

The first chapters are available at Amazon.com’s Shorts –program for less than a dollar.

Alfeo Zeno is the apprentice of the alchemist, astrologer, and healer Maestro Nostradamus. Although he’s not the famous Nostradamus but his nephew. Alfeo was born as a noble but his family is very poor and so he must work.

Nostradamus is famous and his clients are the wealthy and occasionally noble as well. Usually, this is a good thing because they can afford to pay Nostradamus well and give Alfeo generous tips, too. However, when one of the clients dies mysteriously, Nostradamus turns out to be the prime suspect.

Earlier, the maestro had done the victim’s horoscope and foreseen that he would die just when he did. People are starting to suspect that the maestro had poisoned the unfortunate man in order to make his prediction come through. The victim himself was a rather powerful figure: a rich nobleman and a procurator of the Doge. He died during a small gathering of people who came to view a book which might be very old and valuable. Nostradamus was present, of course, but Alfeo wasn’t.

Alfeo has the honor of trying to save both his master’s and his own neck from the hangman. Fortunately, he is quick-witted and has a lot of quirky friends. He can also use his master’s connections among the nobility. And if all else fails, magic might provide the answer.

Alfeo narrates the story in first person. He’s likable but not too meek. He knows when he should take advantage of his noble bloodline and when to play the humble servant. He also usually knows more than he tells others.

The book has a lot of fun, quirky characters. Nostradamus himself is a cranky old man whose feet are so bad that he can’t walk but must be carried on the rare occasions when he ventures outside. His carrier is a mute giant who has been taught a few, simple signs. Alfeo’s lover is a very highly paid (or not exactly paid – she only accepts very expensive gifts) courtesan Violetta. She’s the ultimate actress who can change her voice and expression to be one moment a chaste nun and the next a vigorous lover. She’s also highly intelligent and, of course, well connected. The barbarous Englishmen are quite funny, too, as are the rather dour lawmen who are trying to catch Alfeo almost at every turn.

Characters: great!

Setting: I really, really liked this historical place and I’m going to get at least one history book about Venice. The one magical element seem quite fitting to me.

Plot: I was rather distracted by the setting and the characters. The plot seemed complex enough to me, though. Centers on political intrigue and solving the murder instead of battles or lightning bolts.

Overall: I liked this book a lot and I’m likely to listen through again. (Usually I don’t reread much.) I hope I can get the next in the series this year.

Here’s my review of the book at the Curled Up With a Good Book website:
Mother of Lies

The duology ends as impressively as it started.

4 1/2 stars from 5

Here’s my review of the book at the Curled up With a Good Book website:
Children of Chaos

I was quite impressed by this story of cultures and people clashing.

4 stars from 5