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The King's Agent    by Donna Russo Morin order for
King's Agent
by Donna Russo Morin
Order:  USA  Can
Kensington, 2012 (2012)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

Battista Della Palla makes a pact with the King of France, Francois I. In order to obtain military protection for the city of Florence, Battista must help the French king obtain an ancient relic lost through the ages and rumored to have been fought for by powerful rulers in the past. Spain and France are at war, and the Italian city states are vulnerable to Spain. The rule of the Medici family is no longer accepted, and military help from King Francois seems to be Florence's only hope. Although the relic has vanished, Battista Della Palla's illustrious career as an art thief has earned him a reputation even among royalty.

The sought after relic is a sculpture by Greek Praxiteles. When Battista researches the sculpture, he learns the clues leading to the relic are vague and misleading. The art thief's direction to the relic, which can save Florence, will come from a triptych created by Renaissance artist, Giotto de Bondone, and from Alighieri Dante's epic poem, The Divine Comedy. With Dante's poem providing clues to the relic and Giotto's paintings giving visual guides to its ultimate location, Battista is convinced he can present the relic to the French king. But the Giotto triptych has been dismantled into three parts, and Battista must locate each piece in order to find the relic and secure Florence's future. Luckily, Battista won't be working alone.

Aurelia lives a sheltered and unexciting life under the guardianship of the Marquess of Mantua. When she spots the impossibly handsome art thief, Battista, attempting to steal from her guardian, she agrees to help him escape in exchange for her freedom. With Dante speaking from beyond the grave through The Divine Comedy and Giotto's paintings pointing them to the relic's hiding place, Battista and Aurelia head off on a journey which will literally take them to hell and back.

Donna Russo Morin paints a lush portrait of Renaissance Italy. Anyone fascinated with Renaissance art and architecture will devour Morin's atmospheric rendering of the sixteenth century. Although I enjoyed Battista and Aurelia's frantic journey for the missing relic, I didn't care for Battista's and Aurelia's weakly-written romance, which seemed completely out of place throughout the book. I also felt that both Battista and Aurelia could have used more character development. The characters seemed to be swallowed up by the larger than life mission they undertake. And the novel's conclusion is clever, yet disappointing. I have to give Morin credit for its shock value, but she made a writing decision that will not please some readers. All in all though, The King's Agent presents the city of Florence at the height of its glory and delivers adventure from beginning to end.

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