It’s 1501, and the Borgia family are tightening their grip on Italy. Rodrigo Borgia has been Pope Alexander VI for nine years, and continues to combine his role as Holy Father with that of head of his family: carrying out papal duties whilst filling his son’s war chest with papal money. His son, Cesare, Duke of Valentine, appears unstoppable. His mercenary army, supported by his father-in-law, the French king, have taken control of many of the city states in Italy. Cesare’s sights have now turned on Tuscany, and the weak City of Florence. Enter Niccolò Machiavelli: Florentine ambassador, who’s job it is to meet with this young, war hungry, syphilitic Duke and broker a peace between him and Niccolò’s city.
Meanwhile, the Pope’s daughter, Lucrezia is on her way to Ferrara and her third marriage. The addition of the duchy through marriage will swell the lands of the Borgias even more. But enemies abound: within the church, within Cesare’s own army, even within nature itself.
This is the second of Sarah Dunant’s novels about the Borgias, following on from Blood and Beauty, released in 2013. What Dunant has managed consistently through the two books is dispel some of the myths around the Borgias, and bring the family to life. Lucrezia in particular is shown for the fierce, independent woman she was, as opposed to the wanton girl she is often portrayed as. This is obviously a book born of years of passion and research.
I found it almost impossible to put this book down, and came to it each day with a sense of anticipation. The plot and the characters are of equal importance, a symbiotic relationship exists between the two and the story races along. The characters are fascinating, as are the relationships between the main players. I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Cesare Borgia and Machiavelli, and the respect the Florentine had for this young duke who would become one of the influences for Machiavelli’s own writing.
I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley, but we BookEaters always give honest reviews and advice. I can’t recommend this book enough, although be sure to read Blood and Beauty first!