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Blood & Beauty: The Borgias; A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 16, 2013
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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.”
“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.”
“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
Top customer reviews
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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.
In this first installment, we meet the Borgia family, just as the father, Rodrigo, is being elected pope. From there we delve into a family as beautiful and loving of each other as it is full of corruption, jealousy and intrigue. If you don't know much about the Borgia's I suggest you read these books about Sarah Dunant before watching something like "The Borgias" from a few years back on Showtime.
Though the story did slow down a little in the middle, I enjoyed it overall and I'm starting the second and final book right now.