When I heard that a new novel was being released about the Borgias, I got very excited. After watching a couple of seasons of THE BORGIAS on TV, I’ve become a huge fan. I quickly became engrossed in all the chaos, history and escapades. Now with this novel, by award-winning author Sarah Dunant, I felt I would finally be able to sort out the truth from the falsehoods.
BLOOD & BEAUTY brings the larger-than-life Borgia family straight to the forefront. The fire in this story demands your attention from the beginning. “WE HAVE A POPE!” The year is 1492, and the new pope is Rodrigo Borgia, who will be known as Pope Alexander VI. He’s wealthy and of Spanish blood. He brings several illegitimate children. Cesare and Lucrezia are his favorites. And mine too.
I am going to tell you right now that I just can not get the picture of Jeremy Irons
out of mind. To me, he is Rodrigo Borgia. Jeremy Irons is the phenomenal actor who portrays Pope Alexander VI on the TV show. The dumpy and plain Rodrigo of Dunant’s novel may well be what the real Rodrigo Borgia was like, but give me the Jeremy Irons character, thank you very much. Even his voice.
Lucrezia is only twelve years old when this novel begins. Her handsome brother Cesare in his late teens. They are both to become players in this exciting historical time. In fact, Rodrigo Borgia thanks God for his children as they are the only ones he can actually trust in his devious dog-eat-dog world.
Poison, murder, and incest is almost always linked with the Borgia name. Mostly not true, the poison and the incest, that is, but the murder…. Just as I thought. As I watched the TV series I could not help but be intrigued by the shadow of incest. Then the scenes where Lecrezia concocts poisons. But even with those elements tossed aside, this novel is so enjoyable, so full of well-researched history, that I found myself entranced. I was also interrupted many times as I had surgery in the midst of my reading, then a visit from grand kids. I found I was able to pick right back up and quickly get right back into the thick of it. And happily so.
Lucrezia Borgia is a mesmerizing character. I can’t get enough of her. To think she was forced to wed, time after time, men chosen all in the name of politics and family. None of these men were her equal. But Lucrezia was no shrinking violet. She was gorgeous, intelligent, smart, and strong. Strong above all. We’ve heard of her sexual appetite. And it has helped to make her infamous. Dunant clears that up and gives us a much truer picture of who Lucrezia Borgia really was.
Cesare Borgia comes into his own. He is ruthless. He loves his sister and yet is cruel beyond measure to her. He comes off as such a rogue. Women can’t help but fall at his feet. And we do see the tension between him and Lucrezia, right from the get-go. But true history says that is all it was.
Italy is torn apart by war, over and over. The countryside and the cities tortured through battle after battle. The French want it. Everyone wants a piece.
There are people who are comparing Hilary Mantel’s “WOLF HALL” and “BRING UP THE BODIES” to this Borgia series. I give an emphatic NO! The only thing these novels have in common are superb writing and undeniably spot-on research. BLOOD & BEAUTY by Sarah Dunant is a spirited, lovely, enjoyable read! Most of my readers have found Mantel’s novels difficult reads. Not nearly as enjoyable.
BLOOD & BEAUTY is the first in a two-part series of books. This novel gives us ten years of the Borgia rein. I am already chomping at the bit for the next installment.
Thank you so much Random House for providing this delicious galley!