Thursday, August 01, 2013

Sarah Dunant: Blood and Beauty: The Borgias

Sarah Dunant: Blood and Beauty: The Borgias

Title:  Blood and Beauty:  The Borgias

Author:  Sarah Dunant

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group

Pages:  528

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Setting:  Early Renaissance Italy

Where did you get it?  I downloaded a copy for my Nook app via Barnes and Noble.

Why did you read it?  I got an e-mail from B&N titled, "Fiction that Reads Like History". As historical fiction is one of my top favorite genres, I had to check it out. From the handful of novels featured in the e-mail, this title caught my eye. I've always wanted to learn more about the Borgias and, in fact, I have a biography about them that I haven't had the chance to pick up yet (and now it's lost in one of the many boxes of books that I can't unpack because I no longer have bookshelves on which to put them).  Anyway, my interest in the Borgias is why I chose this novel.

From the publisher:  By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.

What did you think?  I don't know about you, but when it comes to history, I often have a hard time keeping names, places, and dates organized in my mind. This is mostly true when I'm reading a dry account of some event in a text book, like we did in history class in high school. It's when I watch a documentary or watching a television show like The Tudors, or when I read historical fiction that I am able to connect names, dates, and events in a meaningful way that allows my mind to remember and make sense of them. Keeping in mind that aside from documentaries, these other accounts are fictionalized, embellished, or altered in some way that provides more entertainment value to the work. Still, I feel like I learned quite a bit about the Borgias and especially the time in which they lived. Reading this novel also spiked my curiosity for this time, culture, and this family. I really want to read some non-fiction to see how accurate Dunant portrayed the Borgias. Going by her account, the Borgias have been vilified over time and aren't nearly as terrible as I had assumed they were or how they're portrayed in Hollywood.

Dunant's writing style annoyed the bejeezus out of me though. At first, I thought maybe that it was the way that the novel had been adapted to its e-version. Oftentimes, formatting is lost in translation. However, I read a news article that Dunant wrote for The Guardian about syphilis and how it ran rampant during the time in which she set her novel. The same things that annoyed me in the book were also present in this article. I've read many other books and novels by British authors that didn't annoy me so I don't think that's it either. But geez!! Her comma usage was terrible. There were other things, but there were times she didn't use a comma when she should have and it took me forever to figure out what the sentence was saying.

If I had a star rating system, I'd give this novel a solid 3+ stars. It's informative, the subject material was beyond interesting, and Dunant seems to be vastly knowledgeable about her subject matter. As my own knowledge of the Borgias is limited to this book and three episodes of The Borgias, I can't give a certain opinion on how accurate she truly is. But, it did drag at times and I really wish that she would have headed her chapters with dates. I had a hard time figuring out how much time had passed chapter to chapter, and it was especially confusing when she'd be retelling the same events in the next chapter, but from a different character's perspective. It also seemed like when the pace would pick up and I was really getting into the novel, she'd end the chapter and the momentum would have to begin again. I also really felt like I was left hanging in the end, almost like this was book one of a series.


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