Italian Renaissance history that any aficionado would gobble up. Skillfully arranged, told by two totally opposite characters, this historic novel manages to imbue suspense and drama into facts we already know.
Cesare Borgia, from a young age heir apparent to his scheming father's dynastic plans, tells the story of he and his siblings, including crass and licentious Juan, and beautiful, notorious sister Lucrezia. All the senior Borgia's children were pawns in Roderigo's grandiose plans to dominate the Italian peninsula. In an age when cynical manipulation and rampant self-dealing were the norm (no, not 21st century America), Roderigo Borgia was in a class of one.
Also known as Pope Alexander VI, Roderigo was brilliant, a larger-than-life figure who rose to the top of the Italian and Vatican heap. His children by various mistresses were a scandal, but he unappologetically used them. Seen through Cesare's fond but clear-eyed lens, the Vicar of God seems little more than an over-reaching tyrant.
Contrast the weary, worldly, often cynical Cesare (made a Cardinal at 18) with the maid Maddalena, who works in the various Borgia households, particularly that of Lucrezia. Deeply religious, deeply moral, the pretty maid eventually catches the eye of more than one Borgia, with far-reaching consequences.
This was the age of the Bonfire of the Vanities, when the Florentine priest Savonarola preached simplicity, definitely not on the Borgia agenda. The tumultuous collection of squabbling, conniving counts and dukes of small city-states all jockeying for advantage, all part of a balancing act Alexander VI must keep from crashing down. And Cesare the nobleman and Maddalena the servant are there to chronicle all of it.
The author, in her post-script, mentions she might do a sequel to further follow Cesare. I think that would be an excellent idea. For the devoted history reader, this is a great find. It's a 4.
Thanks to the publisher, St. Martins Press, and NetGalley for the advance reading copy. The book will be released February 11, 2020.