This novel follows the story of Sancha of Aragon, the granddaughter of the King of Naples and the daughter of one of the cruelest men in Europe. She weds Jofre Borgia, the weak and inneffectual son of Pope Alexander- and brother to the infamous Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia. Despite her upbringing, Sancha is in no way prepared for what awaits her when she goes to Rome.
Of course, Popes aren't supposed to father children, let alone admit that they're his. But this Alexander (born Roderigo Borgia) certainly does, even having his children live in the papal palace with him. Upon marriage, Sancha and Jofre are sent to live in Squillace, in a palace that seems like a hovel in comparison to the finery they lived in before they were married. Sancha is 16, and her husband is 13; despite his young age, he takes to carousing at all hours of the night.
When called to Rome by the Pope (a most lecherous man, whose desire is to meet his daughter-in-law), Sancha and Jorfe must go. When there, Sancha meets Jofre's brother and sister. Lucrezia is insanely jealous at first, but eventually warms to her sister-in-law. Lucrezia is depicted in this novel as a victim of the machinations of her brother and father. I never thought of her like this before. Sancha also meets Cesare Borgia, Cardinal of Valencia, with whom she falls desperately in love. They start a torrid love affair (you can skip over the sex scenes, as they're a bit superfluous to the flow of the story), which ends badly. Soon it becomes quite apparent that Cesare is not all he seems to be. Once divested of his clerical duties, and given a secular role to play, Cesare sets out to conquer the Romagna (the area of Italy north of Rome). His ambitions lead him to want more- including, as retribution for the hurt Sancha caused him, Naples. He soon sides with Naples' worst enemy, France, to accomplish his goal. Suddenly, no one in Rome is safe, especially Sancha, Lucrezia, and her husband Alfonso, who is also Sancha's brother. Soon, fearful for their lives, they are held prisoner in their own home. After Alfonso's death at the hands of Cesare, Sancha swearsthat she will seek revenge.
The Borgia Bride has a fast-paced story, as well as a major what-if: who poisoned Pope Alexander and his son Cesare? No one knows the real answer, but Jeanne Kalogridis gives a possible answer in this novel. I really enjoyed it; I also recommend Pope Joan, by Donna Woolfolk Cross.
Also reviewed by: Books N Border Collies