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Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
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Blood and Beauty

by Sarah Dunant

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Interesting historical fiction about the Borgia family of Renaissance Italy.  I'd heard of this family, but knew little about them.  Sarah Dunant tells their story from 1492, when Rodrigo Borgia is elected Pope Alexander VI, to about 1502, when he marries off his daughter for the third time.

Yes - his daughter.  This pope fathered four children (by the same woman) while just a cardinal, and at least one more while he was pope by a different woman.  The book, in fact, really focuses on two of Rodrigo's children, his second child and son Cesare, and his third child and oldest daughter Lucrezia.

The intriguing cover is a montage of two paintings - one of Cesare, and the other traditionally described as Lucrezia, only it has been flipped vertically to face in the opposite direction than it really does, and conveniently placed behind her brother to hide some exposed...skin.

I've read two of Dunant's other three novels set in Renaissance Italy (in Florence, Venice, and Ferrara), and I feel she has done her research.  Apparently this book is the first of two that will tell the story of this infamous family.  I am definitely going to read the sequel.

Edoardo Ballerini, who was so good reading Beautiful Ruins, also set in Italy, is also wonderful here with the Italian pronunciations.  However, his voice is not amplified enough to hear well in a car moving at high speeds.  That, however, is more likely the fault of the production company or the e-audiobook provider.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[The e-audiobook, and an e-book for reference, were both borrowed from and returned to public libraries. This review also appears on Bookin' It..] ( )
  riofriotex | Mar 30, 2016 |
Not having read any other novels on the Borgia family and knowing only their black reputation, I was pleased that this novel treated them evenhandedly and as well-rounded characters. I don't know how good other novels about them are, but I'll take this one as the gold standard. The story begins with Rodrigo's election to the papacy in 1492--he takes the name Alexander VI-- and treats of his four children. It progresses until a year or so before his death; we know he is dying, by the end of the novel. Cesare is as cruel and duplicitous as history portrays him, but Lucrezia is presented as a victim of her father and brother's whims. This novel takes us through the tumultuous years of politicking, intrigue, corruption, and wars between the Italian city-states, with Alexander and Cesare as puppet masters.

Pacing was very good and the writing kept me enthralled throughout. Highly recommended. ( )
  janerawoof | Mar 17, 2016 |
I was disappointed with this book. I've read and loved several other books by Sarah Dunant, but this one didn't live up to the others. My feeling is that she got so involved with her research and wanting to retell the historical events from the point of view she had adopted, that she somehow forgot to create credible and fully formed characters. In wanting to present a more "balanced" view of the Borgias, who, based on recent historical research, appear not to have been the monsters they've been made out to be—indeed, the current thinking is they behaved in a way congruent with the times they lived in—the story seemed to me to lack the excitement and spice one would have expected from the title. Yes, there is murder and plenty of blood is spilled, but somehow all this seems to be at a remove, as seen from the eyes of a historian rather than a talented fiction writer. While her other books have all carried me away and made me want to follow the flow of her stories and live with the characters for a while, this one felt stiff and formulaic and frankly, rather boring in the end. I'm still giving it a decent rating because I'm a great lover of historical fiction and Dunant certainly did her homework in that sense, but this is not the book I would recommend to someone new to her writing. ( )
  Smiler69 | Dec 4, 2015 |
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 |
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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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