The King's Agent
by Donna Russo Morin
(Kensington, $15, PG) ISBN 978-0758246820
****
The King's Agent has been described as "Indiana Jones meets 15th century Italy", and I'd have to second that opinion. This historical adventure has a romance thread, but mostly it's a wild chase through the Italian countryside on the hunt for an artifact that could change the course of history.

Battista della Palla is a Florentine art thief, who works as an agent of King Francois I of France. Francois often sends Battista to "acquire" various objects, and the latest is a Greek statue that is rumored to convey powers of invincibility to the owner. Since Francois is edging closer to war with Charles V of Spain, he's eager to get his hands on it.

Aurelia lives as the ward of the Marquess of Mantua. Her life is comfortable, but she longs for adventure outside the walls of the estate. Aurelia finds Battista rifling through her home, and agrees to help him escape if he will take her with him. Aurelia knows a great deal about art, and her knowledge will be useful, she reasons. Somewhat reluctantly, Battista agrees and they are off on a grand adventure.

Aurelia, Battista, and his seven loyal men track the missing statue using clues found in paintings and in the writings of Dante, in particular, his Divine Comedy. Da Vinci, the painter, and Michaelangelo, the sculptor, have roles. As Battista and Aurelia race across Italy on their quest, they find themselves falling in love. But Aurelia is keeping a very important secret from Battista, one that could impact two kingdoms.

Don't pick this novel up expecting a romance. The threads are there, and the leads certainly establish a strong bond and a romantic relationship, but The King's Agent is a thriller at heart. Battista is handsome, clever, and kind; Aurelia is somewhat na´ve to the world, but has a brilliant mind and a great deal of courage. They are outstanding characters and their story is captivating.

Their adventures verge on over-the-top in some instances, but it's all in fun and the pace is fast and energetic. The ending was a bit of a personal disappointment, though. After all the two of them had been though, I felt they deserved better.

If you're in the mood for a fine bit of historical fiction, The King's Agent has much to offer.

--Cathy Sova


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