Snodin lifts the man accused of murdering Othello and his beloved Desdemona from the pages of Shakespeare’s drama, rendering Iago in his own vision, a man reviled by those who would see him die for his crimes. Imprisoned in Crete, Iago is to be the special project of the chief inquisitor of Venice. Annibale Malapiero—Il Terribile—seeks to satisfy his curiosity about the motives of such a reputedly depraved man, to comprehend the mind of the murderer. It is Iago who has been blamed for the deaths of Othello and Desdemona. Unfortunately, a series of mishaps thwart the inquisitor’s plans, though he is soon rewarded for his secret machinations.
Leaving nothing to chance in a volatile political landscape, Malapiero has another element to put in place for his master plan: the addition of a fifteen-year-old student, Gentile Stornello, distant relative of a powerful Venetian ruling family (sadly, Gentile does not hail from the moneyed side of the family). Unschooled in life or love, Gentile soon finds himself incarcerated, tortured, inhabiting a cell with a fearsome prisoner—one he begins to suspect is the infamous Iago, killer of the Moor and his wife. Joined in suffering, the two prisoners are forced into a proximity that yields a friendship of sorts, certainly more accommodated by an inexperienced youth who is both repulsed and fascinated by his cellmate: “I am not the devil. I am a man!”
The relationship between boy and man gives Malapiero his most satisfactory information. After the two escape prison, accompanied by Gentile’s pompous teacher and a beautiful peasant girl with whom Gentile has fallen in love, the genius of the inquisitor’s plot begins to take shape. Pursued by soldiers and baying dogs, the fugitives roam the countryside, secretly followed by Malapiero. In a rollicking tale filled with random violence, unexpected kindnesses and gradual confessions of Iago’s troubled history, Gentile is the face of balance between two extremes, the temper and volubility of the escaped murderer and the manipulations of the obsessed inquisitor.
Through the young noble’s eyes the drama takes form, one that speaks of a soldier’s past and troubled loyalties, of wars and losses, of bravery and foolishness. Annibale Malapiero is, alas, more predictable. Entrenched in power, he plays at his cat-and-mouse game even when his own future is in jeopardy, savoring every detail of his prey’s futile journey to freedom.
The author spins easily from the chased to the predator with equal agility, his rich tale awash with history and the conflicts of opposites, Gentile buffeted between the two. Whether knowledge of Shakespeare is essential to appreciate the nuances of this novel is for the reader to decide, but Snodin has prepared a great literary feast in Iago, from its earthy elements to the occasional delicacies evident in a country awash in artistry and beauty. Every flavor of humanity is found on the pages of this novel bathed in the hubris of a wanted man and one who would learn his most intimate secrets.
From Cyprus to Venice, from the halls of government to the moldy dark of a prison cell and the ecstasies to be found in a maiden’s arms, an unsophisticated young scholar experiences what his studies could never teach him: the outrage of betrayal, the nature of love, and the immeasurable value of friendship born of hardship.