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Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons Paperback – August 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Accused by her husband, the heir to the duke of Ferrara, of poisoning his mistress, the notorious Lucrezia Borgia must expose the real murderer to prove her innocence. Determined to escape the false rumors that plagued her existence in her native Rome, Lucrezia carves out a new life for herself in Ferrara; however, her newfound contentment is threatened by the mysterious death of the foolish but harmless Bianca Tedaldo. Assisted by her two loyal ladies-in-waiting and her saucy chambermaid, she undertakes an investigation that leads her down a suspenseful path of personal and political intrigue. As she plays a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with an increasingly desperate killer, Lucrezia's own safety is threatened in spite--or perhaps because--of her familial connections to both Pope Alexander VI and the cunning Cesare Borgia. Gellis does a fine job of resurrecting and rehabilitating the legendary Lucrezia Borgia in this gripping historical whodunit. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Fast paced and gripping...a perfect blend of history and mystery that will satisfy the most discerning fan."---Romantic Times (Top Pick) on Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons

"Gellis does a fine job of resurrecting and rehabilitating the legendary Lureczia Borgia in this gripping historical whodunnit"--Booklist on Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons

"Roberta Gellis and the medieval mystery are a perfect match."--Jo Beverly, New York Times bestselling author of Hazard on Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765306611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765306616
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,186,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roberta Gellis has a varied educational background--a master's degree in biochemistry and another in medieval literature--and working history--10 years as a research chemist, many years as a free-lance editor of scientific manuscripts, and more than 40 years as a writer. She is married--to the same man for over 60 years (no mean feat in these days) and lives in Lafayette, Indiana, with her husband Charles and a lively Scottish terrier called Zoe. She has one child, Mark, who teaches Rhetoric (a fancy name for expository writing) at Kettering University in Michigan. Mark is married to Sandra and they have a lovely daughter, Elizabeth.

Gellis has been a successful writer of historical fiction, publishing over 25 meticulously researched historical novels since 1964. The best known of these are The Roselynde Chronicles (ROSELYNDE, ALINOR, JOANNA, GILLIANE, RHIANNON, and SYBELLE). The series has been reprinted many times since its first appearance in 1979, most recently in 2006. Gellis has also been the recipient of many awards, including the Silver and Gold Medal Porgy for historical novels from West Coast Review of Books, the Golden Certificate and Golden Pen from Affaire de Coeur, The Romantic Times Award for Best Novel in the Medieval Period (more than once) and Lifetime Achievement Award for Historical Fantasy, as well as Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Acheivement Award.

More recently Gellis has ventured into other genres, starting with mythological fantasy (DAZZLING BRIGHTNESS, SHIMMERING SPLENDOR, ENCHANTED FIRE, BULL GOD, and THRICE BOUND). Most recently she has written historical fantasy, with a series of book coauthored by Mercedes Lackey set in Elizabethan times (THIS SCEPTER'D ISLE, ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, BY SLANDEROUS TONGUES, and AND LESS THAN KIND). Before that she was writing historical mysteries, a four-book series set in London and Oxford in 1139 (A MORTAL BANE, A PERSONAL DEVIL, BONE OF CONTENTION and CHAINS OF FOLLY) and one set in the Italian Renaissance in Ferrara (LUCREZIA BORGIA and the MOTHER OF POISONS).

Since Gellis is one of the early addicts to electronic readers---she purchased a RocketeBook way back in 1999---it is no surprise that she was eager to get her own out of print historical romances into electronic format. Cerridwen Press ( has published the Heiress Series (THE ENGLISH HEIRESS, THE CORNISH HEIRESS, THE KENT HEIRESS, FORTUNE'S BRIDE, and A WOMAN'S ESTATE) as well as the Royal Dynasty Series (don't ask me about that, there isn't a royal or a dynasty in any of the four books---it was a notion of a long-ago agent) SIREN SONG, WINTER SONG, FIRE SONG, and A SILVER MIRROR. Cerridwen offers a variety of formats, one of which can be read by the Kindle and for those too firmly addicted to paper, the books are also available in a very nice Trade edition (but those are rather expensive).

I'm sorry I don't have any amusing anecdotes to relate, as recommended by the Profile, but a writer's life is really very quiet. Sometimes my neighbors ask my husband what has happened to me because they haven't seen me in such a long time. Depending on his humor of the moment, sometimes Charles tells them that I can't come outside because he keeps me chained to my computer---but that isn't true. He lets me get up once in a while.

Roberta Gellis

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Renaud on September 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Probably the main reason I would recommend this book is for David Bowers' beautiful cover illustration. However, the story isn't that bad either, although it was really not as involving as it could be. I did like Lucrezia Borgia as the sleuth. To me, her characterization was the strongest aspect of the novel, and her participation in the mystery of the death of one of her ladies-in-waiting is quite believable. Lucrezia is a convincing Renaissance Italian princess; unlike another reviewer, I did not find her to be a typical romance heroine. A typical romance heroine would be some fiesty Mary Sue type, running around the countryside barefoot and helping urchins and oldsters, whereas Lucrezia is a canny, hard-eyed courtier who possesses an excellent idea of the nuanced behavior required at the Ferrarese ducal palace. This is a relief, after having recently plodded through one of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries where Jane behaves like a Regency Trixie Belden and the mysteries are so contrived that I found myself rolling my eyes on every other page. Gellis is too much of a class act for that, and she understands her period too well to have her characters behaving anachronistically.

However, my major problem is that there is too much telling, and not enough showing. Several of the main figures surrounding the murder are only described; we never meet them. For example, this one fellow, Pelagio, is described as an insufferably bad poet, but we never get to see first hand what he is like. The same holds true for the murder victim herself, Bianca, who is constantly referred to as silly and flighty. Although the announcement of her murder makes for a gripping opening, it really would have been nice to meet her as well, even if it had just been in a flashback.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sires on November 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had some real doubts when I first read on a historical mystery list that Ms. Gellis was going to be doing a series of mysteries with Lucrezia Borgia as the detective. Even though in past decades writers have sent a great many famous historical figures off sleuthing after murderers, Lucrezia Borgia has a couple of strikes against her. One is that the popular image of her as a serial poisoner still lives. Another is that even if this image was the work of her enemies (as it was) she still lived a very circumscribed life as the daughter of a Pope and the wife of a Duke's heir.
However Roberta Gellis has very neatly got around both of these problems. High born women were watched closely if there was no legitimate heir yet and Gellis does a great job of showing how she could have coped with a life I would describe as claustrophobic. She places the murder in the Duke's court but also within Lucrezia's sphere. She further keeps the cast to a manageable size by concentrating on a few trusted companions and servants and keeps the time period where the story occurs into a few days. Meanwhile there is a sense of urgency because there is always the fear that if she does not act fast her father or her brother might step in to solve her problem (and incidentally make it worse.)
This is a very pleasant read, although I do have to say that Lucrezia's relationship with her husband is a little-- well, peculiar, although it's not outside the bounds of possiblity.
While it has a satisfying ending there are some loose ends that hopefully will be tied in later books in this seris.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Woodbuckley on December 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Roberta Gellis is always a good author, whether she is
writing mysteries, romances or fantasy. She is also not an
author to be lightly taken up at will, for a pleasant few minutes. Her writing requires concentration and time.
Here she is starting on a new series featuring Lucrezia
Borgia and it is an engrossing opener. We are launched
directly into both the poisoning murder of one of her
ladies in waiting and her confusing, tentative relationship
with her husband Alfonso.
She realizes immediately that she must solve this murder,to
clear her name and be able to continue this new life that
she has found so much more pleasant than her former fraught
life in Rome.
There is a good deal of period detail that convincingly establishes the background, without becoming a history lecture.
The tortuous life of the Ferrara court is revealed through
the relationships between the characters. They all obviously have a life of their own, independant of the main plot.
Occasionally the dialogue is too wordy, the conversations sag to a too-distant point, but this does not distract permanently
from the story.
The relationship between the politically married couple, however, is far more fascinating and often I wanted the mystery to disappear, so that more would be revealed about Alfonso.
He is far more of an engrossing mystery to both the reader
and Lucrezia. The final paragraph scene between husband and wife is a dreadful teaser.
I shall definitely be reading the next installment - for just this reason.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By tregatt on September 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Lucrezia has but recently returned to court from the Convent of Corpus Domini when her husband, Alfonso d'Este, publicly accuses her of having had a hand in poisoning Bianca Tedaldo -- one of the unwanted ladies that her father-in-law, the Duke, had installed as her ladies-in-waiting, and Alfonso's (or so he claims) latest mistress. At first, Lucrezia is devastated at the accusation; but then she begins to reflect: Bianca was hardly the type of lady that Alfonso would ever be attracted to, even if she was rather pretty -- Alfonso prefers his women coarser and cleverer, and Bianca wasn't exactly bright. So why was Alfonso accusing her of murder? Realizing that people were going to start whispering about her all over again (because of who she is and all the scandal attached to her name) and suspecting her of murder (and worse), Lucrezia is determined to discover who murdered Bianca and why. And if she can discover exactly what her enigmatic husband (who she has began to develop unexpected feelings for) is up to, so much the better...
"Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons" proved to be a fascinating read. With vivid descriptions and well chosen phrases, Roberta Gellis brings to life the vivid colour and pageantry of the d'Este court at Ferrara. Ms Gellis's grasp of what was going on (both historically and politically) was very evident as well. And these were the bits of the book that I really enjoyed and what made reading this book such a pleasure. However, while the pacing was fairly tight and the suspense level rather high, mystery-wise, things only really picked up about three-quarter way through the book. But this is definitely something that will not trouble too many people, unless, that is, you're someone who tries to solve the mystery at hand before the authour reveals all. However, "Lucrezia and the Mother of Poisons" was an engrossing and riveting read, worth touting as a worthwhile read.
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