Sarah Dunant’s novel Blood & Beauty: The Borgia’s; A Novel, is a look into the lives of the Borgia family who dominated Rome and the Papacy in the late 1400s to the early 1500s. This is the first of 2 historical fictional novels from Dunant so we are left wondering at the end of the novel what will become of Pope Alexander, his son Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia. There are many other characters that come and go, especially husbands for Lucrezia, but they are minor characters in the novel and in the lives of the Borgia’s. First and foremost is family. The Borgia family. Everything else comes second and everything must be done to protect the family’s interests.
Dunant does a good job balancing time between all the Borgia’s and doesn’t focus on one character. It places the Borgia name at the center of the novel, which is probably appropriate for this family, but it lacked a driving interest. Its hard to not have a primary focus when all the characters behave so devilishly. Lucrezia seems to be the only hope, but she’s still young and I’m sure she’ll come into her own Borgia-ness in the next novel.
I did have a bit of an issue with the novel at first since it’s remarkably like a mini-series I watched a couple of years ago. There was more sex and scandal in the show, but since I think it was on HBO that makes sense. The beginning of this novel was so similar to the show, I wondered how fictional this is. Or did Dunant read histories of this family and put it together. Dunant references the Pope’s Master of Ceremony keeping a diary of all the Pope’s exploits, and I wondered if this was a novel taken from that diary.
It was still an interesting read, especially to learn more about the absolute corruption in the Catholic Church during this time period, but it felt more history than fiction. Which was not what I was expecting and it took awhile to warm to the style of this mostly historical but somewhat fictional novel.
Read September 2013