King, Ross 1962-

views updated

KING, Ross 1962-

PERSONAL: Born 1962, in Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada. Education: York University, Ph.D. (English literature), 1992. Hobbies and other interests: Cycling and hiking.

ADDRESSES: Home—Woodstock, England. Agent— c/o Author Mail, Walker & Company, 435 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

CAREER: Writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Nonfiction Book of the Year citation, Book Sense, 2000, for Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture; Governor-General's Literary Award nomination, and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 2003, both for Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling.


Domino, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1995, Walker (New York, NY), 2002.

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance GeniusReinvented Architecture, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.

Ex-libris, Walker (New York, NY), 2001. Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Walker (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Born and raised in Canada, Ross King began his career as an academic, with a doctorate in eighteenth-century English literature from York University in Toronto. While working on a research fellowship in London, England, and aware that academic job prospects were not very good, he decided to begin writing a novel set in the period of history he researched. Not long after his fellowship ended, he received a contract for his first book, Domino, a historical novel set in eighteenth-century London. King has since written a successful series of books, both fiction and nonfiction, which gracefully blend European history with the arts.

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, "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."

Turning his attention to nonfiction, King wrote Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture when he found only a few brief paragraphs about the magnificent dome on Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral and its architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, in most Florence guidebooks. In Booklist, Bryce Christensen suggested that "King illuminates the mysterious sources of inspiration and the secretive methods of this architectural genius in a fascinating chronicle of the building of his masterwork." More than just the story of how a Renaissance masterpiece was built, the book incorporates the historical detail that brings to life the vivid tapestry of daily life in fifteenth-century Florence. King's research has brought to light delightful nuggets of information to personalize the building's story. For instance, King notes that in one impossibly cramped working area between the two shells of the dome, a kitchen was installed to serve the workers their noon meal. David Soltesz, reviewer for Library Journal observed that "King has done his research, but where the historical record is vague he doesn't hesitate to deploy the speculative imagination of the novelist."

King's third book, Ex-Libris, is a literary thriller set in 1660s London. Isaac Inchbold, a bookseller, is offered a great sum of money to recover a rare manuscript stolen from the collection of the mysterious Lady Marchamont. "King expertly leads his protagonist through an endless labyrinth of clues, discoveries and dangers, all the while expertly detailing seventeenth-century Europe's struggles over religion and knowledge," explained a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Michael Pye, in New York Times, concluded that there is too much historical detail included in the book, and that the author "buries himself in unneeded details that make more trouble than they're worth." However, Ann Bruns's review on the BookReporter Web site stated, "Ex-Libris is, in a word, mind-boggling," though she warned readers that they "may want to brush up on their European history before tackling this masterpiece."

In an interview on the Walker Books Web site, Ross King was asked what inspired him to take on his next project, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. It was his fascination with "the 'contest' in the Vatican between Michelangelo and Raphael," adding, "I knew that the story of these two extraordinary artists working head-to-head against one another would make for fascinating reading." By all accounts, King was right. Donna Seaman praised the author for chronicling "Michelangelo's aesthetic decisions and clarion triumphs over myriad forms of adversity with expertise and contagious enthusiasm," in her review for Booklist. And a critic for Kirkus Reviews described it as "a legend-busting, richly detailed account of the four-year making of the Sistine Chapel frescos," adding that readers "seeking a richer understanding of Renaissance art-making will find this a pleasure."



American Artist, March, 2003, review of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, p. 70.

Booklist, February 15, 2001, Emily Melton, "The Story behind the Story: Ross King on Historical Fiction," p. 1121; October 15, 2002, Emily Melton, review of Domino, p. 392; October 15, 2000, Bryce Christensen, review of Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, p. 402; December 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, "Revisiting the Italian Renaissance," p. 718.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Domino, p. 1337; November 15, 2002, review of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, p. 1676.

Library Journal, December 2000, David Soltesz, review of Brunelleschi's Dome, p. 118; November 15, 2002, Ann Kim, review of Domino, p. 101; February 15, 2003, Martin R. Kalfatovic, review of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, p. 134.

Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2003, Nick Owchar, review of Domino, p. R11.

New York Times Book Review, April 22, 2001, Michael Pye, review of Ex-Libris, p. 17; December 29, 2002, Michael Upchurch, "A Nice Game of Slobberhannes," p. 9.

Publishers Weekly, December 11, 2000, review of Ex-Libris, p. 62; October 14, 2002, review of Domino, pp. 63-64.

Times Literary Supplement, July 28, 1995, Judith Hawley, review of Domino, p. 26.


BookPage, (May 14, 2003), James Neal Webb, review of Domino.

BookReporter, (May 14, 2003), Ann Bruns, review of Ex-Libris.

Walker & Company, (May 14, 2003), interview with Ross King.*