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Blood and Beauty: The Borgias; A Novel by [Dunant, Sarah]
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4.0 out of 5 stars 304 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Chapter 1 of Dunant’s latest historical feast opens on August 11, 1492, with the people of Rome rejoicing, “We have a pope!” The cardinal, who has just been elevated to the papal throne after five days of voting by the College of Cardinals, is a Spaniard by the name of Rodrigo Borgia, who chooses to reign as Pope Alexander VI. Thus is inaugurated a highly dramatic period in papal, Italian, and even European history as the Borgia family—the pope and his bastard children, two sons and one daughter, unhidden as such—extend their influence well beyond the confines of ecclesiastical matters to exert power within the Italian peninsula exactly as would a powerful royal dynasty heavily involved in the politics of the day. Pope Alexander, who reveled in the physical attractiveness and mental vitality of his three illegitimate, now full-grown children, used them as pawns to strengthen his personal hand within the papacy and further afield, “becoming stronger and more potent in their presence.” As the eldest son, the infamous Cesare, says, “There have been none like us before. And there will be none like us afterwards.” For those who find Hilary Mantel’s brilliant Tudor novels too deep and demanding, Dunant offers less rigorous, more comfortable historical fiction. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The author of The Birth of Venus (2004) is being accorded a vigorous publicity campaign for her latest novel, which will include lots of media focus. --Brad Hooper


“A brilliant portrait of a family whose blood runs ‘thick with ambition and determination’ . . . The Machiavellian atmosphere—hedonism, lust, political intrigue—is magnetic. With so much drama, readers won’t want the era of Borgia rule to end.”
People (four stars)
“In Blood and Beauty, Dunant follows the path set by Hilary Mantel with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Just as Mantel humanized and, to an extent, rehabilitated the brilliant, villainous Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Dunant transforms the blackhearted Borgias and the conniving courtiers and cardinals of Renaissance Europe into fully rounded characters, brimming with life and lust. . . . Dunant illuminates the darkened narrative of the Borgia record, reviving stained glass with fresh light, refreshing the brilliance of the gold and blue panes history has marred without dulling the blood-red that glows everywhere around them.”
The New York Times Book Review
“[Dunant’s] depiction of passionate people obsessed by the idea of a dynasty that will outlive them is not only intelligent and restrained but also lit by an affecting streak of lyricism. . . . Like Hilary Mantel with her Cromwell trilogy, Dunant has scaled new heights by refashioning mythic figures according to contemporary literary taste. This intellectually satisfying historical saga, which offers blood and beauty certainly, but brains too, is surely the best thing she has done to date.”
The Miami Herald
“Another achievement for Dunant is her ability to re-imagine history. Although the Borgias are often called the most notorious family in Italian Renaissance . . . Dunant manages to show different facets of their personalities. If history has left some blanks in this regard, Dunant fills them. The members of this close-knit family emerge as dynamic characters, flawed but sympathetic, filled with fear and longing, and believable.”
The Seattle Times
“Dazzling . . . a triumph on an epic scale . . . filled with rich detail and page-turning drama.”

“British author Sarah Dunant is the reigning queen of the historical novel set in Renaissance Italy. . . . This novel will be most rewarding for those with a keen taste for history and a willingness to stick with a lengthy story with no real heroes but plenty of fascinating and really bad behavior.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Blood & Beauty breaks new ground, showcasing the redoubtable Borgias, a family that exerted outsized influence briefly but devastatingly over the handful of fifteenth and sixteenth century city-states that make up current-day Italy.”
—Lizzie Skurnick, All Things Considered, NPR
“Hugely enjoyable . . . an old-fashioned rollercoaster of a story . . . [Dunant] triumphs, like all good novelists . . . in a deft, shrewd, precise use of killer detail.”
The Guardian (U.K.)
“[Dunant] is in her element. . . . She brings fifteenth-century Italian cities vividly alive. . . . [Blood & Beauty] is an intelligent and passionate book that will no doubt thrill Borgia-lovers.”
The Sunday Times (U.K.)
“The big, bad Borgia dynasty undergoes modern reconsideration in [Sarah Dunant’s] epic new biofiction. . . . Dunant’s biggest and best work to date, this intelligently readable account of formative events and monster players has Hilary Mantel–era quality best-seller stamped all over it.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Hilary Mantel fans and historical fiction readers in general looking for another meaty novel won’t want to miss Dunant’s latest.”
Library Journal
“For anyone obsessed with the Borgias, this tome is right up your alley—it follows the scandal-plagued family, as the patriarch Cardinal Rodrigo attempts to buy his way into the papacy. Not only does this story have family drama, illegitimate children, and a religious figure with an enormous taste for women, but it’s based on true events. . . . Everything was more fascinating in the olden days.”
“What a marvelous feast of vices and desires Sarah Dunant gives us—lust and ambition, passion and power, destiny born and bought. The Borgias are arguably the most intriguing and ruthless family in all of history, and Dunant brings them ravishingly, bristlingly to life.”
—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
“An astounding achievement, extensively researched and exquisitely written . . . The Borgias have never been so human, and so humanely portrayed.”
—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife
“A fascinating read full of vivid detail and human pathos . . . Dunant opens a window into the extraordinary machinations and skullduggery of the Borgias and provides us with a richness of description that beautifully locates them in their own time.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“An engrossing tale of beauty and corruption, Blood & Beauty is meticulously crafted, and utterly convincing: a work of a skilled historian and a masterful storyteller who makes the Borgias live and breathe.”
—Eva Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great
“Brilliant and utterly bone-chilling, Blood & Beauty held me spellbound from beginning to end. This exquisite, seductive portrait is destined to become a classic.”
—Anne Fortier, author of Juliet
“A masterpiece of biographical fiction, and likely her best novel yet . . . With brilliant detail and flawless prose, she opens the doors to the Vatican of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), his vibrant feuding children, and his sultry mistress. It’s a work I’m not likely to ever forget.”
—Sandra Gulland, author of The Josephine Bonaparte Trilogy
Blood & Beauty is a wonderful novel, taking you deep into the world of Renaissance passion and the Renaissance papacy. Part of me was happily lost in the time travel, and part of me was repeatedly struck by how vividly ancient Rome met modern Rome, and how the city of history came to life.”
—Mary Beard, historian and author of The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

Product Details

  • File Size: 4259 KB
  • Print Length: 545 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (July 16, 2013)
  • Publication Date: July 16, 2013
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00B3GMJ90
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,177 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Sarah Dunant's previous two novels set during this rich and vital period of Italian history, The Birth of Venus and In The Company of the Courtesan, were all the more effective and authentic for the unusual position that placed their principal characters at the centre of important historical and dramatic events. Beauty & Blood is a little different in as far as the principal character of this book - if it can be said to have any single principal character - is none other than Pope Alexander VI himself. But then if you know that Alexander VI is otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia, you'll understand why this perspective is the important one to understand if you want to get to the heart of the critical historical events that occur during this period, not to mention the notorious ones.

Alexander is however only nominally the principal character in Blood & Beauty, and only in as far as it's important to know about his motivations, his personal inclinations and ambitions, his Spanish origins and his sentiments towards his family if we are to have any really understand the complex web of intrigue that ensues. The Borgia Pope arranges strategic marriages, appointments and alliances for his brood - legitimate and illegitimate - bending the rules where necessary (he is the Pope after all) and the politically motivated manoeuvres, divorces, murders and selective use of poisons he employs to smooth the path towards consolidating the high position of power that he has managed to attain. In such dealings, Sarah Dunant is meticulous and observant, showing that one shouldn't underestimate the power of the Church, the obedience it inspires and the legitimacy it lends rulers who are on its side.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This richly endowed history of the Borgia's is so packed with detail that you cannot rush through the book. Ms. Durant picks through the varied histories, pulling the most logical and clear details into sight. This book is by no means a enhancement of the TV series in any way. She presents the Borgia's as real people who bleed, and suffer and want and envy just as their counterparts and work and sceme to get their wants and gold and cash and property and as much as they can get regardless of right or wrong. She details Cesare as the young bishop who rises to Cardinal on the back of much worthier contestants and the degretation of his character from kind and caring young man who does not want to be in the priesthood to a hardened callus killer who gets what he wants by any means.
Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI is introduced as a lecher, who does no attend to many of his vows with an insatiable urge to become pope. Now don't put him down for that as he is just a creature of his times and almost all of his fellow Cardinals are just as crass as he but they do not have his money.

This is just an opening taste, Lucrezia develops from an adorable and loving child of 10 into a charming, beautiful woman of 14 or 15 and then exhibits what she has been learning from her parents and brothers.

This is a hell of a good book and not an overnighter. The book is so rich with details and facts that you will have to take your time and read slowly to ingest the entire plot.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI at the age of 61. The story begins with the vote and how his family discovers the news.

At first, the storytelling seemed to paint a bland, rather lifeless picture of characters who I wanted to know more personally. The politics described were sometimes a bit too heavy - they overwhelmed the personalities. This changes fairly quickly, however, and the politics blend with the personalities better. It's quite fascinating to see how the pope and his family wield politics as a weapon to get what they want, from land to money to marriages (and annulments) to any number of favors and gifts.

As the history of the Borgia family - the pope; his oldest son, Cesare; the favored son Juan; the youngest son Jofre; the daughter Lucrezia; the servants; and the lovers and spouses of the family unfolds, everyone somehow begins to breathe and live. And what a wild, powerful, colorful bunch of lives are revealed.

I still feel the author held back from giving any of the Borgias too much of a voice, because the story itself is so dramatic and sometimes boiling over with emotion, that for each family member to speak his or her mind or to expose too much feeling would almost be overkill. So where at first I didn't care for the writing style, by the time I finished, I applauded the restraint because it makes it easier for the reader to make his or her own conclusions about each of the Borgias and those whose lives connected (or collided) with theirs. In other words, as corrupt and violent as this family seems, the author writes with an open mind.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I feel bad giving this novel only two stars, because it's meticulously researched and contains many beautifully written passages. One gets the sense that Sarah Dunant maybe wanted to write a nonfiction history of the Borgias, but was constrained by her previous success as a novelist from straying too far from her established template. The resulting novel reads like a strange mix of biography and fiction: Dunant seems uncomfortable inventing motivations or events to which the historical record doesn't directly attest, so the book is filled with strange time lapses, unexplained behavior from main characters, and huge amounts of telling rather than showing.

These problems are most apparent in her characterization of the Borgias themselves, among whom there's no clear protagonist. The point of view often jumps within a single chapter--or even page--from one poorly-developed viewpoint to the next. Dunant's characters read like sketches a historian might reconstruct from letter fragments and secondhand evidence about people long dead, not living people with a rich emotional life, as characters in fiction need to be for a novel to be compelling.

Nor is there a coherent plot structure: the course of events simply meanders through the family's history, breaking off abruptly and confusingly at Lucrezia's departure from Rome to marry her third husband with only the barest hint of a conclusion (I presume a sequel is forthcoming?). Those who are fascinated enough by Italian history to enjoy the book purely for its rich evocations of the material culture of early modern Rome may find it worth the purchase, but as a work of fiction it falls flat.
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