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Mandragora: A Ribald and Irreverent Tale from the Italian Renaissance

267 pages3 hours


Excerpted from the critique in The Podler Review March 19, 2014.
Based on Niccolo Machiavelli’s play, “The Mandrake”, this is a tongue-in-check story of a rake desperate to sleep with a certain woman, a husband desperate for a child, and a wife desperate for control of her own life.
The story starts with a hanging, and who doesn’t love that? . . . another great historical fiction tale that does this well . . . This immediately pulls the reader into the setting and the story, making us curious about how these characters got here and how they relate to or foreshadow events surrounding the main characters. Greaves holds up his end of the bargain, keeping the reader’s attention with one crazy scheme gone wrong after another.
In addition, Greaves expands on the characters in the original play, making them well rounded and more believable rather than the caricatures of the original play. The servant, Siro, is now the catalyst for Callimaco’s antics rather than just being strung along. The character of Ligurio (the “brains” behind the plan in the original play) is now a downtrodden, destitute, filthy con man that Greaves uses to illuminate the darker reality for the non-elites.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about Greaves’ writing style was his conversational storytelling and his often wink, wink, nod, nod asides to the reader. Occasionally he would break down the fourth wall to address the reader directly, such as: “Regrettably, this cannot be said of lechery itself, for ever since evil was created at the beginning of the world lechery has been an all too common sin (as you and I, being virtuous, know very well).”
Greaves has great lines such as: “A hanging without music is as boring as a Borgia banquet without at least one goblet tainted with poisoned wine.” . . .
Like many great works of historical fiction, Greaves provides a list of discussion questions for book clubs and reading groups. I found these questions to invoke thoughtful contemplation.
Mandragora is a well-written, well-edited, funny, and thoughtful comedic tale that, while it may divert at times from Machiavelli’s play, stays true to the original.

More praise for Mandragora:

“The language of Mandragora is as rich and pervasive as the pheromone-laden Italian night air. Human frailty abounds, grotesque situations develop; and yet, a nimble and loving humanity hovers over the proceedings.”
Craig English, author of Anxious to Please: 7 Revolutionary Practices for the Chronically Nice and Anvil of Navarre

“Mandragora is splendid. H.D. Greaves has, using Machiavelli’s famous play, created a genuine tour de force of his own. By turns hilarious, shocking, and lyrically erotic, Greaves does full justice to Machiavelli’s most devious satirical ideas involving sex, power, deception, and corruption. Don’t read this book quickly or you’ll miss the sly wit and nuances. It’s delightful from beginning to end.”
Hans Boos, eminent zoologist and author of Parasites, a thriller set in Trinidad, and Snakes of Trinidad and Tobago

“I thoroughly enjoyed Mandragora. Both the material and the writing are rich.”
Mark Jurdjevic, Professor, Italian Renaissance Studies, York University, Canada, author of Guardians of Republicanism: The Valori Family in the Florentine Renaissance

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