Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

One of the most infamous families in history - the Borgias - are given a new look in Sarah Dunant's latest book, Blood and Beauty.

Beautiful, corrupt and incredibly violent, life in Italy in the late 15th century was not for weaklings. Divided into city/states each with its own ruling family and the Papal States were a plum prize. They were up for the taking when Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI through a sprinkling of money and mayhem. Cardinals were very different then - Borgia kept a mistress and had several children. These children reaped the rewards of their father's elevation to pope.

Cesare, historically a handsome and especially cruel man rumored to have had an incestuous relationship with his sister Lucrezia, remains true to his historical reputation. But Lucrezia is reinvented as a political pawn to be used in marriage to strengthen the family's political position. She appears to be a very sheltered and will do what her father wants her to do. Little mention is made of her relationship with her brother, and what is mentioned is mostly sanitized. She appears to have been totally besotted with him. Only at the end of the book does her political acumen get revealed.

This book gives a very different view of the Borgias - quite different, in fact, from the more common historical views. That alone makes this book worth reading. But add in the rich historical detail Dunant is known for and this book is definitely worth the time.

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