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Reader’s Den

June 2014 Reader's Den: "The Judgment of Paris" by Ross King, Part 2, About the Author


About the Author

The critically acclaimed author of Brunelleschi's Dome, Leonardo and the Last Supper, and Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power, King is a native of Canada who has lived in England since 1992, currently outside Oxford. He is a devoted cyclist and hikes regularly in both the Pyrenees and the Canadian Rockies. "In 2002—03, two books of his were published in the United States, Domino, about the world of masquerades and opera in 18th century London and the New York Times bestselling Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling." He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature and moved to England to assume a research position at the University of London. 

In Leonardo and the Last Supper, King pursued some commonly-held myths about the painting "The Last Supper," including that Mary Magdalen is not represented in the painting, a idea that may have arisen with Dan Brown's 2003 book The Da Vinci Code. Of Leonardo, who sometimes had trouble finishing his masterpieces, King has said, "Had Leonardo died in 1494, he would be virtually unknown today" King says. "Because most of the things that he is known for today—The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa, the anatomical drawings—all of those things come after the age of 42. We think of him as a genius who could succeed at anything he turned his hand to. But until he was in his 40s he had not really fulfilled all his wants." Particularly since life expectancy in Italy at that time was a mere 40 years of age.

According to Contemporary Authors Online, "While published in Britain in 1995, Domino was not issued in the United States until 2002. According to Emily Melton, who interviewed King for a Booklist article, King knew he wanted to write a novel set in the eighteenth century 'about opera, masquerade, and the exotic Continental world coming into England at that time.' The word domino itself refers to a black cloak and eyeless mask worn to a masquerade. The book's narrator, George Cautley, alternates between two stories: his own, which focuses on his move from rural England to London at age seventeen where he hoped to make his fortune painting portraits of 'Persons of Quality'; and the other, a tale of fifty years earlier, about an on-the-run Italian castrato opera singer, Tristano Venanzio Pieretti, whose romantic indiscretions cause him to seek refuge in London, aided by a character who would also figure in George's life. In her review for Library Journal, Ann Kim observed that 'King effortlessly evokes a lively age of deception and disguise as Cautley is drawn into a web of intrigue spun by beautiful and tempestuous Lady Beauclair.' With 'singer and painter as flawed heroes viewed in tandem,' explained Michael Upchurch in his review for New York Times Book Review, ' Domino weighs the trouble with which a naïve sensibility deciphers the tricky links between artifice and authenticity, art and life.' Upchurch also reflected on King's injection of arcane vocabulary in the novel, noting that sometimes 'narrative momentum is sacrificed to an immersion in the worlds being conjured' but that 'through details like these, the book transports readers well away from the plainer prose and less ornate sartorial styles of our own times.' A critic for Kirkus Reviews acknowledged that Domino is 'diverting and entertaining,' but also remarked that it 'feels overcrowded.' Critic James Neal Webb commented on the BookPage Web site: 'Brimming with exotic locations, duplicitous villains, ladies of questionable morality and quite a few surprises, Domino is a reader's delight that confirms Ross' reputation as a classic storyteller.'"


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