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Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty

by Sarah Dunant

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Rodrigo Borgia, a noble of Spanish descent, in 1492 wins a majority of votes of the College of Cardinals, becoming Pope Alexander VI. Unlike most of the early Popes—Borgia has 4 illegitimate children (sons Cesare, Juan, and Jofre and his daughter Lucrezia), that he publically acknowledges. This novel presents the story of this powerful family, its impact on the history of Italy and the Catholic Church. Dunant follows the family (and all of its extensions) over the ten years following Borgia’s election as Pope (I suspect there will be a sequel to finish out the history). The novel also includes vivid descriptions of the gorgeous art and architecture of Rome, especially within Vatican City. Because of the style of writing (third person of narrative—jumping between our various characters and timelines) it was difficult to relate or attach to any of the characters. The only person I had any feelings for was Cesare—who I found to be an incredibly violent and amoral character. Lucrezia comes across as a merrily a pawn in a very political game. Ultimately the novel reads like a non-fiction history book, rather than a novel, and was quite dry and plodding in places. 3 out of 5 stars (because of the extensive research that the novel provides). ( )
  marsap | Jun 1, 2015 |
I am a fan of historical fiction and Sarah Dunant is one of the best in this genre. This novel is about the Borgia's in 15th century Rome. The book reads like action adventure - fast paced, corruption, treachery, intrique, romance and is generously padded with well-researched fact.

I liked it and would recommend it. ( )
  EvelynBernard | May 14, 2015 |
Should be read, not listened to. I wanted to be able to research additional background material, which is difficult to do with an audio tape. I need to get a real copy of this book to be able to get the most out of it. ( )
  Pmaurer | Apr 14, 2015 |
Helpful at answering the questions about her reputation and the personality of her brother - pure psychohistory. ( )
  lisahistory | Jan 26, 2015 |
While reading this fictionalized account about Pope Alexander VI (who ascended to the papacy in 1492) and his children (who included Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia), I kept googling to check on the facts, because what Dunant wrote seemed too outrageous to be true. Alas, not only does she adhere meticulously to the historical record, but when there is ambiguity, she gives the characters the benefit of the doubt. She fleshes out what is known with imagined dialogue, but her story draws so heavily on the known historical record that it hardly seems like fiction at all. More is the pity, unfortunately, because, as one of the characters observes, the Vatican in those days was more like a bordello than a court. Moreover, children, money, and cardinalships were scandalously traded for political gains. Enemies of the papacy were routinely poisoned or dumped into the Tiber River.

One of this Pope’s weaknesses was perceived to be his great love for his children, although Dunant makes the case that in addition to his parental affection, the Pope relied on their loyalty in the treacherous atmosphere of 15th Century Rome to support his (and their) advancement. To that end, he first married off his favorite son Juan, but Juan was murdered in 1497, possibly by the jealous second son Cesare. Cesare was made a cardinal by his father at age 18, and after Juan’s death, became his father’s chief advisor. The Pope’s daughter Lucrezia was married off to secure a political liaison when Lucrezia was 13. A younger brother Jofre was married off at age 12. All of these arrangements were made to consolidate the power of the Pope.

Lucrezia ended up being married three times; her first two husbands were deemed expendable after changes in the balance of power, and they were done away with, again probably by Cesare.

You may be wondering how it is that Pope Alexander VI, originally Rodrigo Borgia, had all these children. Mistresses were common at the time, and indeed, many of the cardinals in Rome evinced the tell-tale blush of syphillis. [The first written records of an outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494/1495 in Naples, Italy, during the French invasion. After the departure of the French, the Italians - visiting the same prostitutes, became infected with the “French Disease” in turn. Cesare Borgia was among the cardinals who suffered from the disease.]

Dunant follows the family (and all of its extensions) over the ten years following Borgia’s election as Pope. The machinations of the family have inspired a large number of books and movies, for good reason. [It should also be noted that Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of the famous 16th-century political treatise, The Prince, based some of his principles of the effective uses of power on the policies of Cesare Borgia. Thus, not surprisingly, "Machiavellian" became an epithet for someone known for treachery, ambition, and ruthlessness.] In the life of the Borgias, and in this book, there is plenty of sex, violence, intrigue, scandal, betrayal, and just all around bad behavior. In other words, there is never a dull moment. If it hadn’t been pretty much true, I would have declared it absurdly unrealistic. I’m still disappointed I can’t do that.

Evaluation: This is a fascinating and eye-opening look at the unsavory and infamous goings-on behind the Vatican doors at the end of the 15th Century and beginning of the 16th. Dunant is apparently working on a sequel. ( )
2 vote nbmars | Jan 7, 2015 |
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To Anthony,
who has made the present as rich as the past.
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By the late fifteenth century, the map of Europe would show areas as broadly recognisable to a modern eye. (Historical Note)
Dawn is a pale bruise rising in the night sky when, from inside the palace, a window is flung open and a face appears, its features distorted by the firelight thrown up from the torches beneath.
More than many in history, the Borgias have suffered from an excess of bad press. (Historical Epilogue)
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By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of his reign.
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A tale inspired by the lives of Borgia siblings Lucretia and Cesare traces the family's rise in the aftermath of Rodrigo Borgia's rise to the papacy, during which war, a terrifying sexual plague, and the family's notorious reputation forge an intimate bond between brother and sister.… (more)

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