Thursday, 13 June 2013

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias - Sarah Dunant

Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias?

A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.

The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope.

The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue.

But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?

What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging? 

"Blood & Beauty: The Borgias" is an epic novel which sets out to capture the scope, the detail, the depth, the colour and the complexity of this utterly fascinating family.

I picked up Blood & Beauty at BEA and as it was coming out somewhat soon, I decided to give it a read. I have heard a lot about the Borgias, especially with the Showtime series but had never actually read anything myself so I was intrigued by the novel.

One interesting aspect in Dunant's work is how different the family seems from the typical portrayal of them. Instead of these conniving villains we have a family that, although it does do horrible things, does it for the good of each other and there's real love there. Rodrigo definitely loves his children and does almost everything for their good. Lucretia is almost a family pawn, doing everything she's told and slowly dying inside because of it. It was an interesting choice and made reading easier due to the fact that they weren't horrifically abominable.

However, it did tend to make Lucretia a bit of a wimp. To be a daughter of the Borgia is a hard job and I'm sure Lucretia gave as good as she got but in this novel, she simpers for a good three quarters until one more death puts her over the edge. That Lucretia became interesting but, alas, she only had sixty or so pages to unfold. 

The book ends abruptly and it seems as if it's asking for a continuation which would make sense as there's still plenty of Borgia history to go over. If there were a continuation, I would probably read it because I do like Dunant's style, full of lovely turns of phrase and wonderful description, but I don't know if it will happen. 

I enjoyed this book and went through it quite quickly, despite it's considerable length at roughly five hundred pages. The section divides make it a quicker read, as does the way it skips through time, even if it does make it hard to figure out how much time has passed at points. If you enjoy historical fiction or Italian history, I would say to pick it up.

Blood & Beauty comes out in July from Random House.

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