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The ground is burning is a book by Samuel Black which features Leonardo Da Vinci, Cesare Borgia and Nicolas Machiavelli. It tells the true story of the meeting between these three famous Italians at a castle in Italy in 1502. Borgia, Da Vinci and Machiavelli are famous renaissance characters who are famous for very different reasons; Borgia was the duke of Florence, Da Vinci the famous painter and Machiavelli for his political manoeuvrings.
They have all had extensive biographies and their characteristics and character flaws exposed and explored, all three are controversial and have gone through several cycles of condemnation and praise. The Italy they lived in was a period of artistic movement but was also a chaotic and dangerous place with the various duchies fighting almost constantly. Borgia became known for his brutality and cynicism, Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor and innovator and Machiavelli was constantly working within the system playing on side off against the other.
The ground is burning attempts to create a story which involves these three very different characters, the story centres around the dynastic struggles of Florence, Milan and Venice with Borgia fighting wars against anyone he dislikes. However, he is also a man of passion, committed to the love of the arts he has cultivated the friendship of an older Da Vinci and has asked him to tour with him as he tries to suppress revolts in the north of his territories. Along with Borgia is a young Machiavelli who is trying to get the favour of the Duke and is trying to work out his place in the world.
The story is a first person narrative by the character chosen as the story progresses, the story jumps from the main three characters to a set of mainly female others. All give their life stories through a first person perspective; however, the main stories are by Borgia, Da Vinci and Machiavelli.
The book works and doesn't work at the same time, the book works because it breathes life into three of the most important men of the late 15th and early 16th century in Renaissance Italy but it fails on the real lack of a central story point. So ok, they all meet up at a castle in 1502 and so what? They meet, they discuss things and then events unfurl afterwards so was the meeting at all relevant to the events afterwards, probably not. The book feels like an author has spent days and weeks loving researching Borgia, Da Vinci etc and has unearthed lots of spicy details about the characters and spotting an opportunity has wrapped a story around a meeting between the three.
I struggled with the book if truth be told; I've always disliked the multi-first person narrative approaches to writing novels. This approach does by its nature lead to a fragmented narrative and only very clever writers can give their characters distinct voices. My overriding feeling with any book written in this manner is that the author struggles to place himself in more than 3 or 4 different characters at one time, flicking between a ruthless dictator Borgia and the Bohemian Da Vinci is easy but flicking between the different lovers of Borgia and Machiavelli is much more difficult.
I did manage to get too the end of the novel, but the meeting much trumpeted about in the novel's
sleeve happens quite a long way into the story narrative and just about saves the book from becoming a little trite and predictable. However, the much anticipated meeting is surprisingly dull and nothing exciting really happens and then the story moves forward again.
So if you're a fan of medieval thrillers then this is just up your street if you're wanting a bit more cut and thrust and a more focused novel then perhaps there are better options out there.