If you’re a fan of historical fiction, enjoy reading about sumptuous feasts and lavish settings, and like to muse on the meaning of truth and beauty, power and politics, the sacred and the profane, boy have we got a book for you!
Mark Frutkin’s The Rising Tide whisks readers off to eighteenth-century Venice, where a strange series of signs stir up a frenzy among the citizens. The city is flooded with whispers that Rodolfo, a hermit with a skeleton strapped to his back, is the Second Coming of Christ.
Naturally this alarms the new and ambitious Inquisitor Pissani.
Rodolfo’s friend, Michele Archenti, a man with his own secrets, is called upon to defend the strangely unworried hermit. What follows is a tale of ambitious religious officials, querulous politicians, double-agent courtesans, writers and publishers of licentious poetry—all during the time of Carnival.
Readers of Mark Frutkin’s Trillium Award-winning book Fabrizio’s Return might recognize Rodolfo and Michele—and look forward to their new adventures in The Rising Tide.
In addition to being an amusing read on the surface, this book is also a fascinating commentary power and authority, and on the ways in which seeming oppositions—spirituality and physicality, high art and low art—are not so very different. I particularly appreciated the message that our reality is based on the stories that we tell.
Now, without further ado, here is an excerpt to whet your appetite for this book, which will be hot off the presses in the coming week.
His First Printed Page
For Michele, the rolling motion of a gondola sighing across the water typically prompted a feeling of contented reverie. As he was rowed out to the island of Torcello, his mind drifted. He recalled that day, almost two years before, when he had stood in his printshop and hailed the appearance of the first page from his printing press.
Bianca had provided the funds to purchase the press—and the tiny, dank room which housed it—from Jacopo Littori, the wizened former printer and bookseller. A single room with the printing press and a long, scarred table along the length of one wall. A door. No window. The damp walls oozed antique ink. The floor was as sticky as the flagstones in a quayside taverna.
On the morning of his first print run, he had set and inked the type, inserted the paper and the frisket, cranked and uncranked the handle. He had paused, placing his hand on his heart as if observing the sacredness of the moment. Bowing, he had peeled off the initial sheet. Michele had gloried in the scent of the ripe ink emanating from his new edition of Dante’s La Divina Commedia.
Gazing in wonder at the newly printed page, he had closed his eyes. A sigh had come to him, a prayer rising in his throat: ‘Deus … ex … machina,’ he had murmured, quietly celebrating his accomplishment. ‘I have coaxed the Word from a machine.’ It hadn’t been the first page ever to come from that ancient and venerable apparatus, but it had been the first sheet he printed with his own hands. For a moment, he felt as if his spirit had somehow been fulfilled, as if he had found his purpose in life, but the feeling had been fleeting. The volumes of Dante he peeled from the press over the following weeks sold poorly—a primary and continuing characteristic of his endeavours. After nearly two years of printing and publishing, he still owed the extraordinarily patient Bianca Lucca significant payment on her original investment. Luckily, the bordello, which she commanded like a sea captain lording it over her ship, appeared to float forever on a high tide of ducats.
Desire, it seems, never ebbs.
A First Assignment for the Inquisitor
Inquisitor Pissani gave instructions on the placement of his trunks in his chambers. ‘And send up my majordomo,’ he ordered the pug-nosed Venetian menial who had been helping him settle in. ‘His name is Schwartz. He should be down in the street, by my boat, making sure everything is in order.’
The servant tried to finish placing a trunk in the corner of the room.
‘Leave it,’ ordered Pissani. ‘Go now.’
A few minutes later, Schwartz strode into the room. He was a powerful-looking man with dirty-blond hair. His grey-blue eyes betrayed the wariness of a rigid mind. His stony look made it appear as if he would brook no softness from any quarter and his heavily pock-marked face suggested he had once flirted with a serious disease. The inquisitor relied on him in every detail of his life and work. For his part, Schwartz maintained the loyalty of a mastiff.
From another viewpoint, there was something strangely similar about Schwartz and the inquisitor, something in their bearing and attitude, in the curl of the lip and the perpetual frown of distaste that marked each as the mirror of the other.
Schwartz took a seat across from Pissani’s wide desk, his hands gripping the armrests as if he were prepared to leap into action.
An imposing, broad-shouldered man, the inquisitor stood half a head taller than most Venetians, giving him a natural air of authority. When he spoke, in his basso profondo voice, he expected people to listen. He wore his hair short, which made it difficult to tell if it was brown or dark grey.
The inquisitor came straight to the point. ‘Something has come to my attention that I believe can assist me in ensuring that I establish my authority here right at the outset. I have information that a nearby island, a place called Torcello, is the haven of a heretic—a most unusual apostate. He walks about with a skeleton secured to his back. It is already rumoured among the Venetians that he must be the Second Coming of Christ. Send a few of our Dominican brothers out to arrest him and bring him here.’
Schwartz drummed his finger s on the armrest. ‘May I suggest, Your Eminence, that we not move too quickly? Will not the doge be offended? Perhaps you should ask that he send his own soldiers to make the arrest.’
‘The Holy Father insisted that I come here to re-establish Papal authority over these recalcitrant Venetians. They have grown far too soft in their punishment of heresy and witchcraft and even alchemy. No heretic has been executed in years. We have been given this opportunity to ensure that our power is recognized from the start. If I can quell these Venetians, my prestige will be instantly established in the Curia.’
‘I see. What is his heresy?’
‘It is not entirely clear. In any case, it doesn’t much matter. I have attained my position by showing no mercy. I am not about to start now.’
If you like what you’ve read, consider attending the official book launch of The Rising Tide in Ottawa on Sunday, June 24. Be sure to mark your calendars!
Thanks for checking out this latest excerpt in our Pulled from the Pages series. Hopefully we’ve piqued your literary interests!