Book review: Machiavellian by Bella Di Corte (Amazon Kindle, 2020)
tl;dr: I enjoyed it, but it’s not without its issues and could have been better researched.
Machiavellian is the first of three books set in the savage world of the Gangsters of New York series.
I hungered to be seen.
There were three things I knew about Capo Macchiavello:
He was gorgeous.
He was reclusive.
He was considered one of New York’s most savage animals.
And he wanted me as his wife. A simple arrangement – you do for me, I do for you. Nothing owed, no expectations. Except for one: never leave.
Life was never that simple, though. By the age of twenty-one, I was parentless, jobless, and homeless, and I had come to learn the hard way that nothing was ever free. Even kindness comes with strings.
Capo might’ve been the only man to ever see me, but I had made a vow to myself: I would never owe anyone anything. Most of all, the man I called boss.
I killed to stay hidden.
Mariposa Flores thought she owed nothing to no one, but she owed everything…to me, the ghost the world had once called The Machiavellian Prince of New York.
A friend of mine saw this on a Kindle special offer and bought it, thinking it might be the kind of thing she’d be into. She also thought it might be something I’d be into as well, because hello, New York? Mafia? Romance? 99p? Yes, please, and thank you. I got as far as 24% before I realised that this was only ever going to be the kind of romance you’d expect from one of the steamier Mills & Boon lines, and knowing my friend would rather claw her eyes out than read a story like that I thought it best to give her a fair warning. She ended up returning it unread as a result.
I don’t have an issue with Mills & Boon type romances on the other hand, although I tend to prefer the less graphic Historical line than the steamy contemporary stuff. This was graphic in places. Speaking of, the word the female main character (Mariposa) uses to describe her anatomy is so childish that when it’s thrown into the middle of a steamy sex scene, it’s like a massive record scratch in your head. I know the chapters are written from a first-person perspective but come the fuck on? (We’re talking, paraphrased, “He thrust his massive anaconda into my oonie”. I mean, really?!)
There are things I like about this book. There are things I don’t like about this book. I’m not sure which weighs heaviest. If you want a steamy, stereotypical romance with a hint of danger and know absolutely nothing about the Mafia, you’re perfectly fine. Enjoy the book, because odds are you will! However. If you have spent over a year hyperfocusing on the Sicilian-American Mafia in New York, how it’s organised, how they operate, it’s history, and everything else about it that you can get your hands on, you … you might not.
I would have loved it if the Mafia angle was actually consistent with reality, which it wasn’t. This book reads as if the only things the author knew about the topic was the stuff you might have picked up from common knowledge alone – that it’s a “family”, it’s from Sicily, each Family has a boss, New York has five Families, the Mafia are ruthless criminals. If that’s all you know about it, and you don’t care if a book is factually accurate as long as you enjoy it – again, you’ll be fine. I’m by no means a Mafia expert, but one of the first things you learn when reading about the Italian-American Mafia on Wikipedia is that a Capo isn’t a Boss. It’s not even specialist knowledge you have to struggle to find, it’s basic knowledge about how a Family is organised. The book keeps using Capo and Boss interchangeably throughout and it made me itch.
Right. Quick lesson: Mafia Family hierarchy has the Boss on top, as expected. He is advised by a consigliere (this term doesn’t feature at all in the book) who is outside the command structure. Below the Boss is an Underboss. Arguably, Achille might fill this function for the Scarpones, but again the term is never used. A capo (captain) is a group leader. A Family has several of these. Each group leader is in charge of a group of Soldiers (Made Men, i.e. sworn into the organisation, unlike Associates who aren’t). How can you not know this if you’re writing a book about the Mafia?!
Also, they have a sort of “code of conduct”, a set of rules to adhere to. One of which is that you don’t go after a Made Man’s family. Considering Mariposa’s entire backstory rests on the fact that her entire family was supposed to be murdered for the sins of her father … I mean … you do you? And speaking of which, is no one else the slightest squicked out by how Capo basically fell in love with Mariposa when she was a five-year-old child? Because when they meet again as adults it’s “OMG, it’s the child I once spared, I WANT HER”. Uh. That’s kinda gross, dude? (By the way, if you’re not into age gap romances, be advised there’s about a 20-year gap between Capo and Mariposa.)
One of the other subjects of my hyperfocus over the past year has been New York City, so this book promising a Mafia romance set in New York was a big selling point … and the only thing it really delivers on is romance. The Mafia stuff bears little to no resemblance to reality, and the NYC setting felt so Generic Big City™ that without the occasional mention of Staten Island, Manhattan or the Hudson there was nothing that made it feel like it was set in New York specifically. It could have been set just about anywhere, which was disappointing. These days you can walk down streets on Google Streetview to get a feel for an area, or watch people on YouTube doing walking tours, so even if you’ve never been there in person you can still see what the place looks like and get some inspiration. (My interest is specifically set a hundred years in the past, and that’s a lot trickier than if you’re using a modern day setting. Google StreetView sadly doesn’t cover the 1920s, and New York has changed a lot since then.)
Aaaaand breathe. So, aside from the lack of authenticity … actually, no, I’m not done just yet.
The couple eventually go to Generic Mediterranean Location™ which, as it turns out, is Sicily. Hooray! (Yet another hyperfocus! This book covers so many areas of things I’m interested in these days!) Again, though, it feels a bit generic? (“Sicily is sunny and warm and there are citrus orchards” which is true, granted, but there’s so much more?) The family farm is on the outskirts of Modica, and there’s chocolate! (YES!) Buuuut then the author seems to have no idea that Modica chocolate has a protected designation of origin, and that it has a uniquely odd texture and a very specific shape due to how it’s made, and how it’s been made for centuries. This is nothing like other chocolate bars you’ve ever had.
If you want to try some Cioccolata di Modica, and you should, I’ve been getting it from a company called CioMod, who has an online shop in the EU. They used to have a UK shop as well, but they’ve moved over to sell through their shop on Amazon UK instead. (I’m not paid for plugging them, by the way, I just love the stuff they make!)
Okay, now I’ll get to the bits I liked about this book.
I liked the main characters. I thought they were well-defined. Capo was stereotypically rich and gorgeous and well-hung, Mariposa was stereotypically plain (But Not To Him™, of course) and poor, and orphaned. So far so good. What the job offered was going to be you could see a mile off – even if you didn’t read the blurb above beforehand. It’s a very passionate romance, and I enjoyed their relationship – possessive though it was and verging on unhealthy, although maybe that’s just Standard Romance Alpha Male™ stuff? I haven’t read any romance novels in a while, and I’m not too keen on the Alpha stereotype as romantic leads.
The writing was fine, I thought the story chugged on well, although I was confused at times as to what was going on and had to re-read the paragraph. There are a lot of names floating about, so the big reveal of a traitor was met with a confused “and who was that again?” from me, because while I recognised the name I had no recollection of who the guy was, so it wasn’t the “gasp! Surely not that guy!” moment it perhaps was meant to be?
If the “who’s who” in the beginning looks daunting, don’t worry. Some of them won’t really matter. It’s because the author has her own book universe where these two feuding families are the main characters. Machiavellian is apparently set somewhere between books five and six, I think, but you don’t need to have read the others to follow – although you might find you care a bit more about the supporting cast if you have.
The frequent use of the phrase “fucka me” was grating, but at least you eventually get an explanation that made it slightly more tolerable.
I’m on the fence about getting more books in this trilogy, or the overarching book universe. On the one hand I enjoyed the writing and the characterisation, but if they’re all about the Mafia without actually being about the Mafia, then I’m more likely going to end up so frustrated it would take away the enjoyment from the story.
So yeah. Maybe I ought to give it two stars, but I still enjoyed reading it, despite its flaws, and it made for some fun topics of conversation.
3 out of 5 veal parmigiana.
P.S. Speaking of “things that are easily researched, but is apparently too difficult to google”: Andrea Bocelli, despite the first name, isn’t a woman. He’s a very talented opera tenor. Time To Say Goodbye, the duet he did with Sarah Brightman, is famous. The Italian original, Con te partirò, was used extensively in The Sopranos. So, umm, yeah … 🤌