25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and frustrating!!
The writing is excellent, the period detail colorful and shows great attention to detail. The Borgias come across as an enigmatic and fascinating family. The major flaw is the heroine. Her attachment to Cesare Borgia is sad, and in the end just makes her rather silly. She's a beauty in a privileged position, yet more or less ruins her own life due to one rather...
Published on April 24, 2011 by Penny L. Bloodhart
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but Not Great
After reading several other reviews I was very interested in this book. While I don't regret buying it and spending the time to read it, I have to agree with another review in saying that it could be very frustrating. The historical information and the interactions between some of the characters was good but the way Violante keeps pining for Cesare gets old and you get...
Published on April 28, 2011 by BeckyBWVU
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and frustrating!!,
The writing is excellent, the period detail colorful and shows great attention to detail. The Borgias come across as an enigmatic and fascinating family. The major flaw is the heroine. Her attachment to Cesare Borgia is sad, and in the end just makes her rather silly. She's a beauty in a privileged position, yet more or less ruins her own life due to one rather unsatisfying encounter with this man, and no matter how shabbily he treats her, she continues to be his pawn. This may be realistic, but I kept wishing that Esther/Violante would find a way to "get over it." The complexity and cruelty of most of the characters probably catches the themes of this time, but somehow most of them become almost impossible to care about. Definitely worth a read for those who want their history without cheerful romance!
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expertly Woven Tale Of Intrigue, Duty And Love In All Its Guises,
I orginally reviewed this book for the blog Luxury Reading and am now so happy I did so!
"All my life I had been obedient to the men who exercised authority over me. Staying behind in Toledo at my father's insistence, until it was too late to travel safely and I was forced to witness my mother's lonely, unnecessary death on the beach at Nettuno. Renouncing my own faith and family in favour of these Borgias with their dangerous charm, their plausible lies and their inhumane religion. Even taking my vicious nickname because it was bestowed on me by a man. My name. My real name."
Her real name is Esther Sarfati and she emerges as our competent and enigmatic narrator. She has the unique ability to be an active part of the drama and intrigue surrounding the heyday of the Borgias but to be obscure and unimportant enough in the analogues of history to also be our proverbial "fly on the wall". The story is bookended with an older, wiser Esther recounting her story of the years leading up to and encompassing her role as a lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia Borgia: 1492-1507. It is within this small grouping of years that Esther lived boldly and lost everything and everyone she ever loved.
In 1492 Esther and her mother are left behind in Toledo, Spain by her father and brothers while they travel to Rome, Italy to find their fortune and security working to assist an up and coming Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia to buy his way into the Vatican and in hopes of escaping the Jewish persecution building in Spain under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Esther is a fair haired young Jewess and her father claims she and her mother can pass as Christians until he can send for them safely. When he doesn't do so and tensions get beyond control, Esther and her mother travel in the mass exodus of Jews from Spain in hopes of finding their men in Rome. After a journey wrought with illness Esther's mother dies on a beach in Italy and our distraught heroine experiences deep loss for the first time in her young life. She finds her father in Rome, quite wealthy by Jewish standards of the time and hardly affected by the news of his wife's death. His Cardinal Borgia is now Pope Alexander VI and her father has risen as a prominent banker for the Vatican. She continues in relative comfort - if not happiness and love - in her father's home until he tells her she will be joining the household of one of the Pope's illegitimate children, Lucrezia Borgia, who will be marrying for the third time at twenty-one. She is informed she must also convert to Christianity and have nothing more to do with her family or her previous life. He convinces Esther her mother would want her to do this to secure her future and ensure a prosperous marriage, but like so many other explanations given in this novel, this barely scratches the surface of the reasons.
In Lucrezia's household she is meant to change everything about herself. She must attend to all the pomp and glitter of the Catholic ceremonies and of the court, she must serve her illustrious mistress according to her every whim and, more importantly than anything else, she must bend and restructure everything she has learned to be moral and just until the Esther she was no longer exists. She is even made to change her name according to the wishes of the Borgias, first to Donata by Lucrezia and then to Violante by Lucrezia's cruel yet charming brother, Cesare. Violante (as she is called through the majority of the book) easily succumbs to the somehow pious yet vulgar ways of the court and soon becomes so enamored by Cesare that, regardless of the way he treats her, gives into his advances and ends up pregnant with his child. Since he is always on the move to build and expand his lands and his political influences, he hardly even acknowledges this child and leaves Violante not only bereft of the love she is sure he feels for her somewhere in his cold heart but with the French Pox that will fester within her for the remainder of her life.
While Cesare seems to little more than count Violante towards the top of his long line of mistresses he has strewn throughout the continent, Lucrezia begins to keep Violante close at hand and seems to befriend her and trust her with her own secrets beyond the station of a simple lady-in-waiting. Violante seems to hope that this means that Cesare, who is extremely close to his sister, has somehow expressed to Lucrezia Violante's importance and she is quite content to continue and demoralize herself and her beliefs as Lucrezia's chief keeper of secrets. This continues until we as reader believe that nothing is too low an act or a revelation to wake Violante up from her Borgia-loving stupor. When a horrid and incredibly sinful secret is revealed to Violante after Cesare's death she finally realizes that she has never been as integral a part of the Borgias as she once thought and was used as a pawn by them as everyone else without the Borgia blood inevitably is. This is the final nail that causes Violante to leave everything behind and escape this treacherous environment before it is too late.
This novel is beautifully written and so effectively exemplifies the glamour of the Borgia court that you can sympathize with Esther's complete admiration and lose of self within it. This novel is not meant to be rushed through and I am not able to even come close to describing all the people, intrigues and alliances in this review. This is my first venture into the realm of the Borgias but it will certainly not be my last. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and have read much about the corrupt Tudor court of the same time period, but the Tudors don't seem to come close to the corruptness and secret world of the Borgias. The author does a wonderful job of combining the facts we know about the Borgias with the rumor and elaboration of those known to be around the Borgias during this time but for which the history books say very little. I would highly recommend this to anyone who adores historical fiction, as long as they do not mind some steam and salaciousness within their reading. I will be waiting with baited breath for what Ms. Bower has next to offer.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tales of the Borgia family,
I enjoyed every bit of this book. I was not familiar with this part of history and the family of the Borgias. It was fascinating to read about the lives of the powerful families of the Italian Renaissance.
This book is told from the point of view of Ester, a lady in waiting to Lucrezia Borgia. She grew up Jewish, but converts to the Catholic faith and is renamed Donata. She falls in love with Cesaer Borgia and what follows is the story of the rise and fall of the Borgia clan. But mostly it is about Ester, eventually nicknamed Violante. She tragically falls in love with Cesaer who is unable to love her in return.
I was a bit confused in the beginning of the story because of all the different names of the characters. Occasionally, some of the same characters are referred to by more than one name. So that took some getting used to.
If you enjoy historical fiction, then this would be a book to add to your to read list. It can meander a bit, but I enjoyed the writing and the plot throughout!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but Not Great,
After reading several other reviews I was very interested in this book. While I don't regret buying it and spending the time to read it, I have to agree with another review in saying that it could be very frustrating. The historical information and the interactions between some of the characters was good but the way Violante keeps pining for Cesare gets old and you get to the point of saying, "Enough already! Let something happen or move on!" Lucrezia Borgia is always interesting. Her relationship with Cesare is a fascinating because there are so many questions surrounding it. Overall, not a bad read but it could have been better.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What a shame. Judging by the cover, this looked to be a doozy of a novel,
**WARNING: Spoilers ahead**
If I had to use only one word to describe this book, that word would be 'laborious'. That word doesn't refer to the effort which went into writing this tome, which I'm sure was laborious on Sarah Bower's part. No, laborious refers to the effort which I went through in order to slog through the book. Reading it was like pedaling a bicycle in low gear on a flat road: you work and work and work, spinning your feet furiously, only to find you've moved five feet. I would read and read and read and five pages later the story would've barely progressed.
The story at the heart of this novel is in itself very thin. Basically it revolves around the main character, Esther/Donata/Violante, as she slowly (excruciatingly slowly) grows wiser about the world around her, namely the goings-on in the court of Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI. The one thing for which I can give credit to Bower is that the story is told from the point of view of a converso, a Jew who has converted to Christianity as a result of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Esther, now known as Donata, comes to Lucrezia's household as a lady-in-waiting and immediately becomes entranced by Lucrezia's brother, Cesare. And this is where the story takes a downward turn. Though Esther/Donata (who by this time has acquired the 'La Violante' nickname from Cesare) has a minimal amount of contact with Cesare, is kissed by him once and immediately forgotten, we are treated to raptures from her as she waxes on (and on and on ad nauseam) about "her dark lover" Cesare. From there, the story becomes tedious and, frankly, rather dreadful as we watch Esther ruin her life with her delusions of her love for Cesare and his reciprocating feelings (or so she feverishly imagines). Even after he finally has sex with her, leaving her scarred with a venereal disease and, not incidentally, knocked up, pretty much treating her like a common whore, she continues to rhapsodize over his charms, his kindness and gentleness, and how life will become as sweet as ambrosia once Cesare returns to her, even though the man has repeatedly told her that he won't ever, ever be with her in the way she desires. EVER. Throughout most of the book, I repeatedly had to fight back my gag reflex.
None of the characters were remotely likable or even that well-drawn. Each one is a paper doll cut-out, able to be summed up in very broad and cliched terms. Cesare's a malicious brute who still manages to make Esther fall at his feet even as he treats her with casual cruelty; Lucrezia's a temperamental, slightly bipolar, manipulative shrew who comes off like a Renaissance Jabba the Hutt; Esther's best friend and fellow lady's maid, Angela, is a cold, calculating, shallow whore who spreads her legs for the most handsome man, but then abandons him at the slightest sign of trouble. And of course Esther herself is a delusional twit, with a bovine intelligence and similar sense of self-preservation; she has no depth or spirit, no opinion, no real purpose or drive throughout the novel other than to be with her "lover," Cesare. The only character who seemed truly fleshed-out and likable, a Jewish goldsmith named Gideon, came three-quarters of the way through the novel, and by that time I was so fed up with the book that I was past caring enough to truly appreciate Gideon. (I had begun to skim through the book around the halfway point; I just wanted to get it read and done with.)
As far as the sins of the Borgias, yes, there are a few, but they're certainly not the main focus of the novel. (There are a couple of titillating lesbian scenes between Esther and Angela as they assuage their lusts with each other when no men are handy; those scenes served no other purpose than to shock and awe and make sure we knew how "sinful" the Borgias were and how easily their decadence managed to corrupt those around them. And, of course, Bower has chosen to use the biggest Borgia sin of all, ***SPOILER ALERT***revealing at the end of the book the unproven yet most enduring rumor of Lucrezia's and Cesare's incestuous relationship with each other and their resulting child, the Infans Romanus.) Instead, the sins and the Borgias themselves are merely set pieces for Esther to interact with as she builds up her fantasy world. This is the filler, this is the page upon page of minutiae I had to wade through as I followed Esther's tale, numerous details laying out the day-to-day life of the Borgias, their adjuncts, their friends and enemies. To be sure, richly described and reasonably well-crafted filler, yet filler nonetheless: The court traveled here and did this day upon day, with this dress and those shoes; the court then traveled here and did this day upon day, now wearing that dress and these shoes. It's obvious Bower researched and researched exhaustively, even if she did flub a couple of things. (She mentions the iron maiden, a device for which the earliest mention only dates back to circa 1793; the Iron Maiden as we're aware of it was more the product of a fevered Victorian imagination than that of a Spanish inquisitor.) However, it seems as though she felt like she had to cram as much of her findings as possible into the story, making the book feel overstuffed and bloated.
I have to say, I'm very glad I won this book in a contest. If I'd paid good money for it, I'd be massively pissed off. There are a couple of readers' quotes on the back cover, one of which reads "a richly satisfying historical novel. It deserves prizes." Yeah, a big fat booby prize. I'm not faulting the author's writing skills; bloated as it is, the richly-drawn scenes show a mastery of the English language. Bower writes well, however her characters are massively unsympathetic and her storytelling meandering. Quite honestly, had I been able to relate more to the characters, especially in regards to Esther; had she been more three-dimensional, with more spirit and intelligence, I wouldn't have minded expending the effort I did in order to get through the book. As it is, I feel disappointed and vaguely angry.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars engaging look at the Borgia family,
In the year 5252 which the Christians call 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella give the Jews three months to leave. Many like the Sarfati family in Toledo decide to relocate to the city-states of Italy where the despotic rulers are tolerant towards Jews and wary of Ferdinand. The Sarfati father and his three sons move ahead to Rome where the patriarch helps finance Rodrigo Borgia efforts to become the next Pope. The females followed but the matriarch died before finishing the journey leaving her six years old daughter Esther travelling to Rome to join her father.
Almost a decade later Borgia as Pope Alexander VI returns the support he received from Sarfati by allowing Esther a chance to join his daughter Lucrezia's retinue if she converts. Although Esther has doubts, her father convinces her to accept the terms. As Lucrezia marries Alfonso d'Este, Esther converts to Christianity and becomes a lady-in-waiting known as La Violante. Lucrezia thinks highly of La Violante and her cousin Angela Borgia becomes her friend; while Lucrezia's brother Cesare stirs her heart.
This is an engaging look at the Borgia family through the rosy colored eyes of an innocent individual who must adapt to a world of backstabbing deadly passion or die. Cesare owns the story line as he never allows his heart or soul get in the way of his machinations. Lucrezia pales next to her sibling; as she does not seem to measure up to her brother on the viciousness scale. Filled with betrayal, readers will enjoy the Book of Esther as La Violante tells how paradise was lost and regained when she learned to trust no one not even those she thought loved her.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, but...,
This was my first jaunt into the world of the Borgias and I really enjoyed it!! My only complaint was that I was often overwhelmed with the variety of characters presented within the course of one chapter. I felt that details of the characters were not pointed out strongly enough for me to remember who was who. Otherwise, the main characters' personalities and characteristics were well laid out and well crafted. I look forward to reading another of this authors books in the future!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly enjoyable (3.5 stars),
This review is from: Book of Love (Paperback)
The Book of Love is set in the early 16th century, in the world of the Borgias. Esther, also named Violante, converts from Judaism so that she might become a lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia Borgia. Very soon, Violante finds herself thrust into a world of danger, romance, and intrigue, as she falls in love with Lucrezia's brother Cesare.
Bower recreates the world of the early 16th century unfailingly; the historical details of this novel are exquisite. She uses the theme of the "innocent abroad" to tell the story of the Borgias through an impartial viewpoint. One of the strengths of the novel are the characters: Cesare Borgia is easily the most compelling, though I didn't like how Bower portrayed Lucrezia--I thought her character could have been more diabolical. The plot drags in the middle, and the sex scenes are a bit crude, but it's what you might expect from a story about one of history's most infamous families. But otherwise, this is an enjoyable book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As exquisite as old gold and apricots,
If you're lucky enough to pick up a good book there's always a moment when you know it's going to be special. This is not necessarily the point at which you can't put it down, but that moment when you're totally seduced by the milieu you've stepped into. With "Sins of the House of Borgia" this moment came for me within the first few pages.
This is a beautifully crafted and sumptuously written novel with strong characters and a wonderful historical sweep.
One of the things that most impressed me was how the author has taken a few documented facts and weaved an incredible story around them. The historical detail, and the way the courtly life of the Borgias is captured, is impressive. I felt totally immersed in the world from the banquets to the Renaissance make-up. And that's another of the book's great achievements. I must confess very little knowledge of this period of history and yet it was completely captivating (as well as teaching me a lot of things I didn't know - another plus of any good novel).
Perhaps the strongest element of the book is the character of Esther/Violante. She's vividly drawn and I really grew to love her: a combination of naivety, cunning, wantonness and self-knowledge. I won't spoil the ending but I found the final chapters almost heart-breaking. Sarah Bower has captured the poignancy of her loneliness vs duty perfectly. In fact, she has pulled off the double-trick of making Violante simultaneously tragic and yet, through her acceptance of her life and loss, an inspiring character.
The book is also beautifully written. This is a novel to take your time with, to savour - not rush through. The writing - command of language, lightness of touch, choice of simile - is exquisite. To give just one example, the light of the fading sun is described as being like `old gold and apricots'; I cannot thinking of a better description.
The length and gravitas of "Sins of the House of Borgia" may not be to everyone's taste (especially those coming to it via the current TV series and wanting fast-cut action) but I can only recommend readers to enjoy this book in its own right. It's sumptuous and profound read. Great cover too!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Tale of the Borgias and the Corruption of Innocence,
It's official. The Borgias are the new Tudors. Not just in the TV world, but in the historical fiction world as well. The promise of Borgia gold led publishers to bring Sarah Bower's novel of the Borgias to the U.S. Originally published last year in the U.K. as The Book of Love, the title was changed (more obvious connection to the Borgias) and the cover was given a makeover (way more scandalous) prior to localization. Frankly, I wasn't too interested in this title at first, mostly for the fleshy cover that screamed "READ ME! I'M A TIE-IN TO THE TV SHOW!" when, of course, it's not. I ended up entering an online giveaway purely on a whim and, somehow, won.
So, here I am with a thick tome of a book with a cover that I'd be embarrassed to take anywhere in public (I do a good chunk of my reading at the gym, so this was a no-go there). Not to mention the charged title...so I wasn't sure what to do. Read it or let it gather dust on my bookshelf. It's nearly impossible (okay, impossible) for me to do the latter, so I did the former.
Sins of the House of Borgia explores the scandalous, notorious and sometimes downright diabolical world of the Borgias in Renaissance-era Italy. After being expelled from Spain for being a Jew, young Violante becomes a lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI. It isn't long until Violante is pulled into the dark and political world of the Borgia family, and her innocence is corrupted. She becomes attracted to Lucrzia's brother, Cesare, even though he would just toss her aside afterward, befriends Angela, a cousin of the Borgia family, and must deal with the web of lies, dark secrets and corruption.
The first thing you'll notice about Sins is that the writing is beautiful. As in, amazing and borderline poetic. As in, Renaissance poetry drenched in detail and soap opera-like history that readers will eat up. I was truly intrigued from the beginning, especially seeing how the family influenced Violante...and changed her. Violante's character growth felt honest and real, though it seems like she never fully realized what her relationship with this notorious family did to her -plus the second half of the book is much slower than the first.
At times a little dense, Sins is a great companion to the Showtime series and a beautifully written novel about the loss of innocence. Ideal for fans of The Borgias, The Tudors and other historical novels with a touch of soap opera.
(Note: has some highly explicit material -more than the average novel in this genre)
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Book of Love by Sarah Bower (Paperback - Apr. 2009)
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