"Welcome to Rome, Salvestro". This novel sprawls. This novel bewilders. This novel has monks, pagans, rats, Popes, adventurers, slave traders,and mercenaries, all rushing inexorably towards one hell of a bizarre resolution. Against a backdrop of Renaissance politics, wars between Italian city-states, and hellish voyages to the East Indies, our plucky pagan hero Salvestro and his halfwit companion Bernardo, travel the length of sixteenth century Europe, getting ever more drawn into a Papal conspiracy that is beyond their comprehension. It cannot be summarised tidily, and it cannot be read without having you dashing out to the library to look up what actually did happen at the sack of Prato, or whether or not the pagan Wends did indeed exist on a small, obscure island in the Baltic off the northern coast of Germany. Whatever Lawrence Norfolk's book is about it is a triumph. Most historical novels simplify. This one doe not hide the complexities. Though not as much fun as its predecessor, the equally bizarre Lempriere's Dictionary, it is as compulsive a read. As a result, a visit to Rome without this novel would be about as senseless as a visit to Kefalonia without a copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.