Day 753: Blood & Beauty

Cover for Blood & BeautyBest Book of the Week!
Blood & Beauty is a historical novel about the Borgia family that shows meticulous research, examining in light of modern findings the legends that have surrounded the family for centuries. It also powerfully evokes the period.

The novel begins with the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI. He is clever and ruthless but sentimental about his four illegitimate children. Although historically there is some debate about the birth order of the oldest two sons, Dunant firmly places Cesare as the oldest, followed by Juan, Lucrezia, and Jofrè.

Although the pope loves his children, especially Juan and Lucrezia, their value is largely in the alliances he can make through their marriages. Cesare’s value, on the other hand, is to back up his father on the religious front. He begins as a cardinal, although he is unsuited to his religious profession and eventually throws it off to become a commander of armies.

Juan’s marriage is first, but the novel is mostly concerned with the relationship among Pope Alexander, Cesare, and Lucrezia. It is much more complex than and different from what you may have heard. It is Lucrezia’s misfortune to be married into families that become enemies of the Borgias because of shifting alliances. This is particularly true of her second marriage to Alfonso of Aragon, whom she loves.

Dunant remarks in the afterward that the Borgias have not deserved their evil reputation. Certainly they were rapacious and ruthless—and more interested in the good of the Borgias than anything else—but so too were most of the great families of Italy at that time. In this novel, alliances are made and discarded at will by most of the great families.

This novel is historical fiction at its best. None of the characters are invented or romanticized, and we become immersed in the world of Renaissance Italy.

Related Posts

The Malice of Fortune

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Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance

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6 thoughts on “Day 753: Blood & Beauty

  1. The Paperback Princess August 12, 2015 / 1:06 pm

    I’ve become very interested in these Borgias but when I’ve tried to read biographies of them I’ve been very frustrated. Probably because I care about Lucrezia the most and since she was a woman at the time, she wasn’t as important in the historical records. This sounds like something I would really enjoy though! I will keep an eye out for it!

    • whatmeread August 12, 2015 / 1:12 pm

      It sounds like you would like it. I read a biography of Lucrezia a while back, and if I can remember which one it was, I’ll send you a comment.

    • whatmeread August 12, 2015 / 1:14 pm

      It might be the one by Sandra Bradford, but I’m not sure. It was just about her, not the Borgias, but they all use the same portrait of her for the cover, and I frankly can’t remember. I read it at least 5 years ago.

  2. julietbailey980 August 13, 2015 / 6:37 am

    I absolutely loved this book! I love pretty much anything about Italy in this era though. I did get to the end, however, and was a bit surprised at how abruptly it seemed to end – and then turned the page and saw the little note saying there would be a sequel! I can’t wait.

    • whatmeread August 13, 2015 / 7:20 am

      Hmm, I didn’t feel as if it ended abruptly, but I’m glad it has a sequel.

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