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Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty

by Sarah Dunant

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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 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Being a history fanatic I was glad to be able to review this one. Normally drawn to American history I wanted to step into something a bit different. I was very pleased with the book, Dunant created a factual and captivating book on the Borgias. As a matter of fact I was more than happy to recommend it to a couple of friends ( )
  fletch68 | Jun 17, 2014 |
I cannot say just how much I loved this book. There is something in the depth of the authors writing and research that appeals to me, and like the other stories I have read by Sarah Dunant, Blood and Beauty did not disappoint. It is the story of the Borgia family during the late 15th/early 16th century, during the height of the Italian Renaissance, a subject which enthralls me. Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into papal legacy, with guts and determination, along with slipping money to the right people. He is the father of four illegitimate children - technically a cardinal and pope cannot have children, but there are ways around everything. He proceeds, after his election as Pope Alexander Vl, to procure wealth and titles for his children, until his untimely death some years later. He was passionate about money, his children, his legacy, and God. Along the way he changed laws and terms, conditions to suit his own driven needs creating a corrupt net of power and fear. The author, at the end, pretty much guarantees a sequel, which I am looking forward to! The story is based on widely spread facts and assumptions, and also on the authors own fictionalized reason and deductions, but it is a glimpse into the papal world that totally intrigues. ( )
1 vote Dmtcer | Jun 3, 2014 |
I was given this book by the organisers of the Sydney Writer's Festval in 2013, as part of the gift bag they gave their volunteers.

I need to say at the outset, this is the type of book I tend to steer clear of - I prefer contemporary (or at least C20) and I font like BIG books because they're uncomfortable to hold in bed and I tend to get bored with them half way through. However, I heard a Sarah Dunant interview on ABC RN, she is a very good promoter of her books and I got caught up in wondering who the. Borgia's were - especially Lucrezia, and so I dove in.

This is what I liked - learning about the nature of the times: the lifestyle, clothes, colours and smells. The power and political intrigues of the families and church - it's difficult to draw comparisons with anything but the mafia. Actually , it's like the strongest family ends up running the church (though Christendom at this time ~1500, seems to be centred around Italy, Spain and France. I like how historical facts are swept into the story - syphillis and, sorry to put them in the same sentence, Michangelo and DaVinci.

I liked the story - the Borgia', they have a reputation that doesn't seem to line up with the times, and what they actually did. I got pulled into the story though everything was signalled before it happened, I just kept hoping it wouldn't happen. I cheered our heroine and booed the baddie (Cesare was a sociopath) and found the godfather! I mean Pope Alexander a big lump of fatherly love (cept he only really loved his immediate family and mistress, everyone else was either a pawn or the enemy). Forgot to forget, there was open papal fornication during this period, just no wives.

What I didn't like ... 528p too long - the middle section groaned, but fortunately picked up a pace the last 150 pages. Also, sometimes the language was so contemporary it was jarring, just didn't fit the times - whilst none of the characters ever actually said 'awesome', sometimes their words had the same effect.

Whilst it's unlikely I'll read any of Sarah Dunants other books, if she writes a sequel (and I think the ending of this book points to one) I'll read it because the research is amazing and I want to find out more about Lucrezia (as well as reading hopefully that Cesare had extended periods of pain and misery before his death). ( )
  tandah | Mar 9, 2014 |
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Book description
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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