By Liesl Schillinger July 5, On June 29 in the jubilee year of , lightning made a direct hit on Vatican City, striking the roof directly above the corrupt, scheming Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI — better known in our time as Rodrigo Borgia — while he sat on his majestic throne. First: the Borgia pope survived. And second: lightning also made a direct hit this year on the dome of St. Sometimes a lightning bolt is just a lightning bolt.
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Violence, predictably, sits in the hands of her dangerous brother Cesare who prowls around the borders of their state, ears pricked for dissent or weakness. And, while this remarkable family strengthens their grip on Italy, a young diplomat in the Florentine Second Chancery follows their progress with quiet admiration.
Of course, the only thing more likely to excite me than a novel purely about the Borgias is one which also features Machiavelli. Dunant has clearly not only read his works, but feels affection for this small, quiet, improbably idealistic man, whose forthright political sentiments sat so oddly alongside a robust bawdy humour. For Machiavelli may not have the vigour necessary to take cities, but he has a foresight that Cesare himself lacks, for all his brilliance.
Cesare becomes more a force of nature than a man, slivering off his own humanity as he hones himself closer to an essence of subjugation and revenge. Shadowed by his scarred lieutenant Michelotto, he has forgotten how to love anyone except his sister, and his only true pleasure now is in killing his enemies and outmaneuvering those foolish enough to be his rivals. As he becomes ever more reckless, the world marvels at the course he blazes across the sky — but his doctor Torella begins to worry.
While Cesare keeps the rulers of Central Italy hopping around like oil on a skillet, Lucrezia settles into her new role as Duchess of Ferrara her husband is only Duke-Elect, but as her mother-in-law died some years ago, she has no competitor.
To write about Florence and Rome in the first four years of the 16th century is to enter a quagmire of historical fiction, where only a few firm paths prevent authors from falling into a swamp of self-indulgence. And this is all good. This is another thoroughly enjoyable book on the Borgias, full of scandal, plots and broken promises. Although their names have such resonance for the modern reader, her Lucrezia is simply a young woman trying to find her way in a new family; her Cesare and Machiavelli simply two men meeting in a room, one of whom dreams of making history, the other of writing it.
This thoughtful approach underpins the more dramatic moments of the book, making it a gem of a read.
In the Name of the Family: Sarah Dunant
Share via Email Negotiating with armies and managing an unruly household He also openly maintains a household of four illegitimate children by Vannozza dei Catanei — among them the infamous Lucrezia, still a child but already being haggled over by rival dynasties — and a new and beautiful mistress. In the 10 years covered by Blood and Beauty, Borgia Rome has to negotiate with the armies of the French king Charles VIII, and the great ruling families of divided Italy — "a sack of spatting cats that has learned nothing from the past" — through diplomacy and marriage, poison and charm. At the same time, Alexander has to manage his own unruly household: treacherous servants, a dangerously passionate daughter, and wilful, warring sons, trained from birth to fight their way to power. From the outset Dunant takes possession of her sprawling, unwieldy material.
Blood and Beauty
Shelves: historical-fiction , kindle , , italy , early-modern Eh. But I feel like this book fails as a work of fiction. That same historical research gets in the way of story, and large swathes of the book read as the straight listing of historical events. None of the characters come off the page with any real vibrancy, Eh. The Borgia name instantly evokes images of glorious wealth and even more glorious power, corruption, poison, and incest. So we might approach this current book believing it to be a significant departure. In addition to climbing on a new bandwagon by fictionalizing famous real-life leaders, her canvas has broadened.
Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant – review
Early life[ edit ] Dunant was born in and raised in London. In Tokyo, she worked as an English teacher and nightclub hostess for six months, before returning home through Southeast Asia. Her eleven subsequent novels have explored two genres: contemporary thrillers and historical fiction. What unites the two is her decision to use avowedly popular forms, characterised by compelling storytelling, as a way to explore serious subject matter and reach large audiences. This has included though not exclusively a passionate commitment to feminism and the role of women inside history. In the s, she wrote a trilogy around a British female private eye Hannah Wolfe, spotlighting issues like surrogacy, cosmetic surgery, animal rights, and violence to women. Sexual violence was also at the centre of "Transgressions" based on a mysterious series of incidents happening in her house  which tackled what might happen if a woman woke to an intruder in her house and live to tell the tale.