Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
Were the Borgias – Rodrigo (Pope Alexander VI), Cesare (Duke of Valentinois) and Lucrezia – as power-hungry and evil as all that? In a word, yes. If you’re appalled by the insanity of current day politics, reassure yourself with some historical fiction. Fifteenth-century Italian political intrigue was deadly.
C. W. Gortner is one of my new favorite authors. (See my reviews of Mademoiselle Chanel and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici.) He has an extraordinary talent for telling the stories of complex, strong, and often maligned historical women. The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia, which will be released on February 9th, explores the life of this scandalous fifteenth century daughter of Pope Alexander VI.
Gortner’s novel puts Lucrezia’s story in her own words. We follow along as she grows from a devoted young daughter, married off for political advantage, yearning to please her father and favorite brother, to a worldly-wise woman who wants only to escape their snares.
As usual, Gortner is able to immerse the reader in a vividly described past with a compelling narrative. The political maneuvering of the Borgias is complicated but presented in an accessible way. On occasion, this necessitates Lucrezia eavesdropping on men who say things like "as you know" before they present material to each other in a way that seems designed for Lucrezia’s ears and the readers’ eyes rather than a natural conversation. But the device is not used so much that it detracts from the flow of the book. Moreover, the crucial historical context is what elevates this novel to such a convincing fictional biography.
Historical fiction fans will love this latest offering from C.W. Gortner. And if you can’t get enough of the Borgias, I also recommend City of God by Cecelia Holland.