When I first read the Prince I took all the text at face value, and interpreted it as a handbook, a book providing instructions for a ruler on the best ways to gain and maintain power. However, I recently read that the book was intended as a satire. The possibility of this didn't even enter my head while reading the book as there are no real hints to this being the case within it. But, if you read some of Machiavelli's other work it becomes clear that what he believes is the best way to act as a ruler is indeed the polar opposite to what he seemingly advocates in The Prince.
He wrote in an earlier work,Discorsi:
"We know by experience that states have never signally increased either in territory or in riches except under a free government. The cause is not far to seek, since it is the well-being not of the individuals but of the community which makes the state great, and without question this universal well-being is nowhere secured save in a republic.... Popular rule is always better than the rule of princes"
This contradicts some of the main points he appears to be making in The Prince. This isn't an isolated quote; it is this belief that is prevalent throughout his work, not the extolling of what we would call "Machiavellian" virtues.
Did you take The Prince at face value or read it as a satirical work? If the book was truly intended as a satire, I find it most depressing that it has been misunderstood. It makes you think what underhand and cruel actions have been performed under the instruction of a manual that may turn out to be advocating the exact opposite. After all, Stalin famously wouldn't travel without it.