This is the second in the trilogy featuring Ignazio di Toledo, a merchant whose only religion is the acquisition of knowledge. Ignazio lives in the beginning of the 13th century when knowledge is considered not only often dangerous but often heretical. Nevertheless, he has a reputation for finding, collecting and selling rare books, often written by the Arabs, and often dealing with alchemy. His vast travels through the Occident and the Orient have won him a reputation for being able to solve arcane mysteries.
The story begins as Ferdinand III of Spain charges Ignazio to find and liberate his cousin, Blanche de Castille, regent of France and mother Louis IX, who was kidnapped and is supposedly kept in a mysterious castle called Airagne. Along the way he is charged with finding an important philosophy text that may be the key to solving the mystery of the Count of Nigredo, involved in Blanche’s kidnapping.
Simoni is a great storyteller, more akin to Agatha Christie than Umberto Eco, although there are similarities to Name of the Rose, specifically its Medieval setting, and the erudite main character. The story is steeped in the history of the time, the protagonists are fallible heroes, the villains appropriately traitorous and villainous, and the surprising twist at the end makes this book a particularly satisfying read.
Note: Although I started with the second book in the trilogy, the books can be read out of sequence.