July, 1700, Rome. Atto Melani - once a celebrated castrato soprano, now a spy in the service of King Louis XIV, the Sun King - mingles with other high-ranking guests at the villa of Cardinal Spada.
Despite being there to celebrate the Cardinal's nephew's wedding, the main topic of conversation is the grave illness of the Pope and the approaching demise of Charles II, King of Spain.
Charles has no heir and Kaiser Leopold of Austria and King Louis are each demanding the throne, with the Vatican supposedly mediating.
Keen to promote his master's cause, Melani sets in motion a grandiose conspiracy that will plunge him into a world of secret languages, religious sects, forged Royal wills and Europe into war.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 736 pages
- Publisher: Birlinn General
- Publication Date: 18/05/2010
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9781846971464
- EPUB from £3.99
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Review by pgmcc
[Secretum] is Monaldi and Sorti’s second novel about the exploits of the French spy, Abbot Atto Melani, their first book being [Imprimatur].In Secretum we find Melani in Rome in the year 1700 attending the wedding of Clemente, the nephew of Cardinal Fabrizio Spada, to Maria Pulcheria Rocci, niece of a most eminent member of the Holy College of Cardinals. Given the eminent positions of the two uncles the celebrations are being attended by many other cardinals.As it happens, the then holder of the Holy See, Pope Innocent XII, is in poor health and the assembled Cardinals expect to remain in Rome to partake in the Conclave that will be called to choose a successor to the ailing pontiff when he dies. For many the wedding celebrations are merely an opportunity to form allegiances, gauge the direction in which factions are leaning, and to press for advantages in the imminent Conclave on behalf of their favoured candidate or indeed themselves.In addition, the King of Spain, Charles II, is expected to die and the fate of the Spanish Empire is a topic of great interest as the monarch has no obvious heir and it is not known whom he will name as his heir. This is made all the more interesting as King Louis XIV of France, “The Sun King”,has arranged a pact with England and Holland to carve up the Spanish Empire between them once Charles II has died, while the Austrian Empire is anxious that France not gain any more strength or power and hopes that a member of their royal family will be nominated as heir to the Spanish crown. What’s more, the Spanish monarch has asked for the ailing Pope Innocent XII to assist him on the subject of choosing an heir.All of these topics become topics of conversation and political manoeuvring amongst the cardinals attending the Villa Spada for the wedding celebrations. What’s more, all the crises alluded to above are historically accurate. This was a time of much international political intrigue and the cardinals were split into factions based on their national allegiances. As you might have guessed from the above paragraphs this book contains many complex issues and weaves several threads of intrigue together to make a compelling narrative in a very rewarding read.In addition to the history lesson and the tales of intrigue and downright corruption, the reader will also find informed discussion on the flora of the Roman villas of the time, descriptions of music and entertainments commonly enjoyed by the elite in Rome at the start of the eighteenth century, and details of the organisation of the catchpolls (police) of the time. One will also find the book brings the reader into another world, a world in which it is a pleasure to relax and enjoy the sumptuousness of the surroundings and the complexity of the intrigues going on around the wedding celebrations.In addition to the text of the novel, the authors have included 30 pages of detail, including citations of source material, and argument indicating the authenticity of the details in the story. The reader is presented with all the detail necessary to validate the facts in the story and even told where key historical documents can be viewed if one indeed wishes to see them. This is almost a challenge to the reader to find fault with the historical accuracy of the facts in the story.I am not an historian and my historical knowledge is not sufficient to either repudiate or confirm the accuracy of the details in the novel, but I suspect there are many who will delve into the detail with the hope of finding fault. I suspect they will not succeed.I have marked and underlined many parts of this book which present opinions and ideas pertinent to the present day and which are probably of global application in every era. One of my favourites is,<i>“…if order is to be maintained in states and in kingdoms, the people must never know the truth about two things: what there really is in sausages and what takes place in the courts of law.”</i>I enjoyed this book immensely and recommend it to anyone who is looking for an informative yet intriguing story that is woven around historical fact and that gives one an insight into the lives of the rich and the poor in 1700 Rome. This is a sumptuous book and one needs to approach it as such. This is not for you if you want a quick read with lots of action and no stopping to smell the roses. Reading this book I took plenty of time to smell the roses.