Book Review: Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Book Reviews copy

Blood and Beauty 1Netgalley Synopsis: By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched only by its brutality and corruption.

When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy, he is defined not just by his wealth, charisma and power, but by his blood: a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If he is to succeed, he must use his Machiavellian son and innocent daughter.

Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty breathes life into the astonishing family of Alexander VI and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex, and relentless.

Author: Sarah Dunant

Title: Blood and Beauty

Publisher: Virago

Date: 2014

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Apart from watching the first series of the television show starring Jeremy Irons a few years ago, I have no knowledge of the Borgias. As soon as I saw this book available on Netgalley, my interest was piqued and I wanted to give it a go.

I’m glad I did. The characters were well developed, the plot moved at a steady pace and the writing was enjoyable. All in all, a solid and entertaining read.

The novel starts with Alexander VI being elected as Pope. It is made apparent early on that this is a man who will stop at nothing – bribery and blackmail should be delivered in equal measures by his more than capable sons if that is what it takes. Once he holds the position of power, the game begins. But his children are his pieces and Alexander VI must move them with great deliberation to ensure the strength and power of his family.

“Except these days saints are in short supply, particularly inside the Roman conclave of cardinals.”

Despite being the Pope, Alexander is, I would say, one of the weaker members of his family. Cersare is clever, ambitious, handsome and will stop at nothing. His character was likeable to start with but his ambition took him too far at points in the latter half of the book. I couldn’t empathise with his character in the second half but there is no denying he was not someone to be trifled with.

Juan was annoying and a show-off. But he paid the price for that and there is some sympathy to be had for his character – his father loved him too much to teach him the realities of the world. Jofré is an irritating brat – but I couldn’t strongly dislike him. He, too, was dealt a bad hand and I empathised with him even while finding him a nuisance.

Lucrezia, for me, was the strongest. She has little choice but to obey the men in her life, but at the same time dreams and dares to follow her heart. She will not be meek and obedient if it only leads to unhappiness but knows how to play her father to get what she wants. She also remains likeable the whole way through, which is more than can be said for her brothers.Blood and Beauty 3

The novel is split into sections, which allows great lengths of time to pass without disrupting the flow of narration. Despite knowing little about this time in history, I quickly became immersed in the world and at no point did it feel disjointed.

The tone of the book gets darker as it progresses. The beginning made me laugh out loud several times, the second half not so much. But that worked with the progression of both the plot and the characters; there was more on the line later in the book than the start.

I really enjoyed Dunant’s writing style. She swept me up in this world of infamous characters and made me both laugh and fear for them equally. This was a little different for me, and I loved it!

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