Original date of publication: July, 2013
My copy: 2013 (Random House; ARC)
Why I decided to read: Offered through Amazon Vine program
How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine program, march 2013
I’ve loved Sarah Dunant’s novels for years, so when I saw that Blood and Beauty was available for review before publication, I jumped at the chance to read it. It tells the story of the Borgia family, specifically Lucrezia, and follows them from Rodrigo Borgia’s ascension to the papacy (and pope Alexander) in 1492 to Lucrezia’s third marriage to Alfonso d’Este in 1502. Rodrigo Borgia’s rise to power was much in keeping with the mores of the time period in which his lived. He even Italianized his name from Borja to Borgia. He and his four children, as well as his mistresses, became symbols of the power, splendor, and decadence of the Papal court in the late 15th century.
It’s really, really hard to write fiction about the Borgia family without completely vilifying or vindicating them, but Dunant does a wonderful job of showing both the strengths and weaknesses of these people. They’re ruthless and cunning, but they don’t seem (at first) as bad as history has made them out to be. There’s this wonderful scene about halfway through the novel, where Cesare Borgia gores a boar; the way the scene is described, it serves as a strong metaphor for not only the dangers of the Papal court, but the savageness of Cesare’s character. That’s the kind of fiction I love; the kind of writing that shows you how something is without explicitly saying so. It makes people, places and events seem so much more real. Dunant’s focus is on stripping away the myths in order to reveal the psychological truths that lie beneath the surface.
According to the author’s note at the end, there will be a second novel that will cover the conclusion of Lucrezia’s story.