The Gentle Infidel is a historical novel set in the 1400s, the fifteenth century. It starts out with a Jew named Joseph visiting his friend Nicolo da Montelupo, a Christian Venetian merchant living in Scutari. Just across the strait from Constantinople, Nicolo lives in the territory of the Turkish Empire because its taxes are lower than the Greek taxes. But, because he is a Christian, he cannot have a brightly colored house, as the other inhabitants of Scutari do. His mansion must be painted gray, like all Christian houses in the Ottoman Empire.
Joseph has come to Nicolo looking for unset jewels to present to the emperor’s vizier. Nicolo shows him his collection of jewels – all splendid specimens. When Joseph agrees to pay 100,000 ducats for the gems, Nicolo suggests a diamond would not do for the centerpiece stone. He then calls in his son Michael, asking him to bring in the best and most beautiful of the collection. It is an emerald from India, said to be cursed, and Joseph agrees to pay 50,000 ducats for that one stone. All told, this venture will cost him 150,000 ducats. Ah, the price one has to pay for dealing with an Italian – even one who is a good friend!
The next day, however, Joseph cryptically warns Nicolo to take his son and sail back to Venice as soon as possible – that very day, even. But Nicolo does not heed his friend’s warning, not fast enough…
So when Michael is conscripted into the janissaries, the elite corps of the emperor’s bodyguards which is formed of the sons of Christians who are indoctrinated as Moslems, he is taken completely by surprise. Like any good father, Nicolo fights to get his son back. He even manages to get a meeting with the emperor, Murad II, himself. But, between his physical problems and the heat of the day, Nicolo’s body fails him. He dies of a stroke in the emperor’s palace in Adrianople – and Michael remains in the janissary camp.
The rest of the story focuses on Michael’s journey. Over the years he grows and becomes strong. Told by the masters of the camp that his father lied to him when he said Michael would be in the janissary camp for a few weeks on holiday, over time the younger Da Montelupo develops a contempt for his father and anyone related to him due to his perceived abandonment.
This makes him somewhat nervous when he is sent to investigate a suspected smuggler in Constantinople, one Filippo Bernardi. You see, Signore Bernardi was a friend of Michael’s father. Michael barely remembers him, but he recalls enough. And someone that close to his father might want to make him a Christian again….
But Michael takes the assignment all the same. It would be cowardice not to do so. He visits Bernardi’s home, and as he feared, both Bernardi and his daughter, Angela, recognize him. Angela and Michael were friends as children, and before he was conscripted, Michael gave her his toy dagger. Nicolo recognized the seed of romance in the gesture and, currently eyeing a Turkish courtier’s third wife, Michael does not wish this childhood idea to grow and bear fruit.
Angela, however, forgets the requisite behavior demanded of infidel women before the young janissary several times during Michael’s stay in her father’s house. This is especially true when Bernardi mentions Nicolo da Montelupo. Michael angrily cuts the old merchant off and states that his father lied to him and abandoned him, having never come to see him since he was taken into the janissaries. Horrified by the lie her friend has believed for so long, Angela breaks silence and tells him the truth: his father died a week after Michael went into the janissary corps. His last thoughts were of his son, not himself.
Michael is so taken aback by the news that he breaks his wineglass by gripping it too hard. Despite his training as a Moslem, Michael is known as a “gentle infidel.” He lets Bernardi off with a warning to stop smuggling, and then goes back to Adrianople – where he gets into trouble.
The Gentle Infidel is not a novel for children. All the same, it is an extremely informative story about the late Middle Ages in the Middle East. In it you will find romance, danger, intrigue… Also, in this modern era where much is misunderstood, this novel will enlighten readers about this important epoch in history. Lawrence Schoonover, the author of the book and another historical novel called The Burnished Blade, gave up his successful career in advertising to write both books.
Until next time, readers.
The Mithril Guardian