Blood and Beauty – Sarah Dunant’s book of the Borgias

This new book is an absorbing, convincing read. I know nothing about the geography and politics of medieval Italy, or even modern Italy, yet this is a book whereby such previous knowledge  is unnecessary. It is a brilliant read!

The book follows the progress, trials and tribulations of the Borgia family who lived and effectively ruled Italy in the late 1400s and early 1500s. It is a family business which is built on an impossibility; the Pope, known as Alexander, has children who he not only acknowledges but who become his power base. Cesare, the eldest, is a man of physical power and supreme strategy. He begins as a Cardinal until  the revenues and rewards of the post are insufficient for his plans, and he fulfills his promise as a military leader. He is a cruel, clever man, impatient with weakness and failure, prepared to do anything to keep his father and family in power. Lucrezia is the  much loved sister and daughter who has the wit and insight to attempt to make the best of her position as marriageable woman to cement or break political alliances. She has opportunities to love, but the man who loves her most is also the most deadly. Her survival is vital, her happiness is conditional on the greater advantage of her family. Alexander, the Pope with more love for his family, grandeur and politics than his Church, is a constant,  powerful presence in the novel whose emotions are enormous, but of consequence for so many.

Sarah Dunant, who has taken part in Radio 3 Free Thinking events at the Sage that I have attended, has achieved so much in this book. It never drags, the research seems sound (not that I’m an expert!) and the sheer narrative is terrifically engaging. The situations seem modern, the cruelty to various characters real, the characters vivid in their reality. It is a story of bad people doing some bad things in part, but it is also a story of emotional intensity in heightened circumstances.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this book, and it distracted me for a couple of days from real life. The ending, as has been pointed out by others, is not complete and there is a strong hint of a sequel. It cannot come quickly enough for me, though it will necessitate cancelling all engagements for a few days…

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