Typically the sort of book where I can see what some readers could find interesting and unique about it, but it's also mostly what makes it boring for me...
Do you remember that bit I'd reposted from Neil Gaiman's blog, where he was "fighting" one of those writers bad tendancies (I think in his case it was "conversations that don't go anywhere and serve no purpose in the plot")? And readers added comments with their own Writer Pet Peeves?
Well, this one writer, while writing this book, was obviously attacked by a ferocious specimen of "I've had to digest all that research work for this book, so now I'll use it and write whole boring chunks out of it!".
The story is set in an uchronic Renaissance Florence. Where Leonardo DaVinci gave up art to dedicate himself to make his inventions come true, creating an alternate steampunk Renaissance... With steam machines, guns with multiple shoots, and other "miracles" of science.
Pasquale is a painter's apprentice (straight. Though his master, Rosso, is gay. But it's not an Anne Rice book, so the main character is straight). His ambition is to sometimes paint an angel as he's had the vision of (and even though I'm a bit of an artist myself, this obsession was a bit lost on me for the plot...).
Due to certain circumstances, he gets commissionned to work with Machiavelli on a mysterious murder.
Machiavelli, in this timeline, has lost its priviledges after Lorenzo di Medici was assassinated, and he was accused of treason by the new masters of Florence. So he has given up politics completely for journalism. Becoming the writer's replacement Sherlock Holmes. Not his worst idea, actually.
I initially bought this book because I had read, ages ago, another uchrony set in this time's Florence ("Ariosto Furioso" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro), minus the steampunk flair, which had made me fascinated by the Medici, this town and Machiavelli for a while (well, among other things, Lorenzo as described in that book was HAWT. I dig smart politic leaders with an interest in art. It's lucky there aren't many of them in real life nowadays...).
Unfortunately, so much time had passed since then that I have forgotten too much of the real events to figure out the differences with McAuley's version, and more annoying, to actually figure out and identify clearly all of the parts in the intricated plot...
And I was quite lost in the sea of useless details (those prompted by the "research overdose" mentioned above). I mean, a whole paragraph to describe the preparation of paint, or a wood panel to paint on?
Sorry guy, if I wanted to learn how to make a painting from the methods of Renaissance painters from Florence, I'd buy a damn book about it.
If it ain't used on the plot, it ain't belong to the book.
There's setting up an atmosphere to make your characters believable, and then there's flaunting your research. This novel clearly lies on the latter.
Okay, clearly, the author DID do his homework. A lot. Just... A background is just a background. You need it to make your characters breathe. Not to drown them into it.
Or I don't know, maybe if it was written any better, I wouldn't actually mind the details... But as it is (maybe the French translation?...), I thought that was a rather dull style.
So, yeah. If you like more-or-less historical mystery novels with complicated plots, it's probably for you.
It wasn't for me. *yawn*