[Review] Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

“The more outrage the better. That way people will fear us while we are alive and never -ever- forget us when we are dead”
I think it’s a well known fact amongst my readers that I am very picky when it comes to novels about the Borgia family. Given the research I have put into this family and the absolute awe I hold for Cesare – I say again, how many have his personal motto tattooed? – I tend to avoid historical fiction about the Renaissance and in particular the Borgia family. I blame this in part for the travesty that was Kologridis’ “The Borgia Bride” and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed Jean Plaidy’s novels about Lucrezia, I found them to be somewhat dry towards the end. So it was somewhat hesitantly that I picked up Dunant’s latest offering.
And I have to say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
From the outset you can tell that Dunant has really put the effort into her research. As I read, I found myself slap bang in the middle of the Borgia apartments in Rome, in the Room of Mysteries with the Pope, with Cesare as he stood before the walls of Ravaldino. And whilst I am aware that this is a work of fiction, I couldn’t have been more pleased to see the placing in there of actual historical events. More so the LACK of incest in there pleased me no end. You will all know how against that theory I am, and how I am a firm believer that Cesare and Lucrezia were close, that he loved his sister more than any woman he had ever met but that they never crossed the line. I found this was portrayed excellently in this novel with stolen glances, the odd lingering touch and one kiss that may have gone a bit too far. The awkwardness between the two siblings after that kiss just seeped from the words so I felt as if I felt as physically awkward as Lucrezia did. 
The characterisation of Cesare has to be one of the best that I have ever read. It is well known that Cesare Borgia was temperamental, or “famously bipolar” as I like to call him and this comes across wonderfully in Dunant’s writing. From his overly inflated ego to his need from power, to his cold and calculating manner when plotting the downfall of those who had become useless to the family. There were moments when I sat there with a knot in my stomach, hearing Cesare’s rants as if I were stood there in the very same room as him. I felt his need for power, his egotistical nature. And there are not many novels that have ever made me feel like that. And if I am honest it was the same with all of the characters in this novel. Particular favourites included Lucrezia (it was SO nice to see her written as she would have been, rather than a scheming poisoning adulteress), Juan and Pope Alexander VI. The work went into the characterisation of these men and women who actually lived all of those years ago. And you could honestly tell.
The only issue I really had was how the ending of the book seemed a little rushed. It would have been nice if more time could have been spent on Cesare’s military campaigns in the Romagna. Unfortunately the story ended with Lucrezia leaving to go to Ferrara. We all know that the story goes on and we see the death of Pope Alexander, Cesare’s downfall and his heartbreakingly lonely death in Viana, finishing with Lucrezia’s death in Ferrara. I can’t help but wonder whether Dunant will be writing a follow up to cover these events? I have to say I would love to read a novelisation about Cesare’s last years. That really is my only gripe if I am honest. It just left me wanting MORE!
If you are a lover of Renaissance and Borgia history then I urge you to pick up this book. Fantastically written, excellent characterisation and a complete page turner. I shall certainly be picking up more of Dunant’s works!

3 thoughts on “[Review] Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

  1. I tried to read this book – and while she's certainly done her research, it seemed kind of lifeless. That's probably due to the third person omniscient present tense – what exactly was the reason behind it? I also felt that Cesare was way too powerful right from the start, i.e. everyone was already afraid of him even though he hadn't done anything to justify that attitude yet. So far, Tom Fontana is the only one who tried to present young Cesare as actually being youthful (i.e. not quite knowing his path and struggling with his hormones). I was also mildly surprised that Dunant didn't mention the older Borgia children (particularly Pedro-Luiz). Even if they were not exactly relevant to the main story this is the kind of detail you expect to see in a novel.

    I guess Fontana's Borgia is my favorite fictional version of the Borgias for now.

  2. Now there's synchronicity – I've just picked this book up and I'm hoping to start it soon. So I won't read all your review yet… but I've seen enough to make me want to start reading.

  3. Pingback: [Review] In The Name Of The Family – Sarah Dunant | The Borgia Bull

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