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The Book of Love Paperback – April 30, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
A young Jewish woman is drawn into the splendor and corruption surrounding the court of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, in Bower's debut, a slick historical soap opera. After Esther Sarfati is baptized and becomes a lady-in-waiting to the widowed Lucrezia Borgia, the pope's illegitimate daughter, she is attracted to Lucrezia's seductive and cruel brother, Cesare. Esther becomes ensnared in a web of deceit and betrayal as Lucrezia is sent in a political marriage to the powerful Alfonso d'Este, heir to the dukedom of Ferrara. Determined to pursue a romance with the elusive Cesare, Esther is increasingly drawn into the schemes and passions of the Ferrara and Borgia families. While Esther's blind love for the careless and usually absent Cesare strains belief, the sheer grandeur of the papal and Ferrara courts, and the spectacle of the Borgia and Ferrara siblings' rivalries and revenges form a glittering take on one of the most notorious families of the Italian Renaissance. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The sheer grandeur of the papal and Ferrara courts, and the spectacle of the Borgia and Ferrara siblings' rivalries and revenges form a glittering take on one of the most notorious families of the Italian Renaissance. (Publishers Weekly 20110324)
Bower brilliantly merges history with politics and convincing characters to draw readers into a lush and colorful tapestry of Renaissance life... This powerful piece of fiction ranks with some of the finest of the genre. 4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick of the Month (RT Book Reviews 20110324)
Very Philippa Gregory, but with better writing and less on-screen incest.
(books i done read 20110324)
Whether a poor Jewish fishing town or the intricate palace of Italy's most notorious family, Sarah Bower commands the scenes with her explicit details and beautifully vivid descriptions.The characters have a vibrancy that brings them to life before our eyes, a sense of realness that makes them relatable and emotionally investing. (Romance Fiction Suite 101 20110324)
This is a very well researched story of the Borgia family, who are more corrupt than the Tudor court could ever have been. (CelticLady's Reviews 20110324)
This is a well crafted book that gives the true flavor of this hedonistic family. The politics, rivalries, sadism, and excesses of the Italian Renaissance are well described and the plot lines moves very smoothly. There a multitude of well fleshed out characters and, for this reason, it's a good book to savor more slowly than same. Ms. Bower has a real talent and I will be looking out for her next work. (Books by the Willow Tree 20110324)
It was a very fresh take on his this fascinating family and cannot speak highly enough of THE SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA. I find that I am telling everyone I know and even random strangers who are in the bookstore about this book. If you are looking for court intrigue then this is the book for you.
(Royal Reviews 20110324)
This is a great character driven historical novel giving readers a very entertaining portrayal of very interesting family. The Soprano's of the Renaissance! I would recommend to historical fiction lovers as well as those who want to read a book that has everything from debauchery to betrayal and back again.
(Deb's Book Bag )
Sins of the House of Borgia is beautifully written and so effectively exemplifies the glamour of the Borgia court that you can easily sympathize with Esther's loss of self within it. This novel is not meant to be rushed through and I am not able to come close to describing all the people, intrigues and alliances in this review. The author does a wonderful job of combining the facts known about the Borgias with rumors and elaborations of those known to be around them but for which the history books say very little. I will be waiting to see what Ms. Bower has to offer next (Luxury Reading )
A sizzling new novel about a young Jewish woman ensnared with love and lust by Cesare Borgia, the pope's illegitimate son.
(USA Today ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The historical details are precise and plausible, and the in depth scenes about women's health and hygiene are fascinating if horrifying. A lot of readers of historical fiction are pickier than some academics, and while no work is perfect, they'd be hard-pressed to find evidence to criticize the author with on that regard.
The problem here, in my opinion, is the storytelling.
First, the heroine, Violante, is Too Stupid To Live, at least when it comes to her own future. She seems to be a good judge of other people's situations and even tries to help friends avoid charges of treason, and she recognizes when her best friend chooses to cast aside the love of her life out of pride. Violante even admits to being unable to counsel herself as she does others. She manages to prevent the firing of her best friend, convince doctors to follow her medical advice, and urge an acquaintance into risking his own neck for the dignity of a slave, yet she refuses to see that Cesare Borgia is a rake and a cad (as portrayed in this novel) and is willing to sacrifice everything for a night in his bed. It's believable that people make stupid mistakes in their youth. It's not believable for any woman to be this naïve for this long about someone she's barely seen in years - at least not if you want the reader to sympathize with her.
Also, when the protagonist is supposed to be so likeable and the contagonists/antagonists so unlikeable, it really helps to NOT have a totally depressing ending where the protagonist fails. At everything. At least in The Borgia Bride, Sancha takes her revenge on those who have wronged her.
I really, really struggled to finish this book, both because there were sections of long description of daily life that were tedious and because the Borgias weren't actually in the same room as the protagonist for huge chunks of the book. By design, Violante is kept in the dark about much of the intrigue. She finds out about Lucrezia and Cesare's "big secret" at the end of the book, by which time the reader fails not only to be shocked but to be interested at all. If she had played a more active role in helping them conceal their various sins (read: incest, murder, poisonings), her moral conflict would have been a lot more believable. I think I can safely say that the main appeals of reading about the Borgia family are the (possible) incest, the intrigues, the poisonings, and the other murders. Lucrezia came off as cold and aloof but not much brighter than Violante, and Cesare felt like a stock villain cut from a bad romance film of the 30s.
I just couldn't relate to any of the characters or even sympathize with them.
Herein, I think, lies the struggle to depict people in historical fiction who were the modern-day equivalent of middle and lower class. If you give them enough importance to make the story exciting, readers may accuse you of being unrealistic; if you depict them as fulfilling everyday roles, they are boring and depressing; if you attempt to give them the importance of a concubine or mistress without conferring on them any real semblance of power or influence, then they become pale imitations of upper class characters. I think the first and last options are the only way to make such characters entertaining. However, I would much prefer for an author to take some historical license and give her main character real influence in the story.
A personal pet peeve of mine is the tendency to make all literary and historical fiction have downer endings, as if the possibility of any closure other than tragedy marks the work, and by extension, the author, as inferior and not worthy of serious consideration. It's as if not only "Happily Ever After" but "Happy for Now" must be relegated to the romance section and children's literature, else they stain a "good" story.
First, it's insulting to the romance genre, where I have read plenty of good books despite the man-titty covers (the one good thing about Fifty Shades of Grey is that some genre fiction will finally have better cover art). Second, it's unrealistic. There are plenty of historical figures who overcame great hardships and led long and fulfilling lives. Surprise, some of them even reproduced, ensuring the continued existence of some at least marginally happy people! Third, literary snobs are not the only people who read books. I, for one, like my education entertaining and my entertainment educating (or not, depends on my mood).
Just because medieval people were crawling with body lice, for example, doesn't mean we want to dwell on lice for the entirety of a book, unless it's titled Lice: A History. There is a huge difference between reading about the effects of a disease and having your main character die of it, especially when it's categorized as a book about renaissance intrigue. Yes, even STIs. Condoms have been around for hundreds of years. I'm surprised not one of the wealthy characters in this book had even heard of them, considering all of the other prophylactics described.
Some people like to read long, drawn out tragedies with lots of suffering and no fulfillment. I am not one of them. If you are not either, I suggest you skip this book.
[Note to historical writers:
I like dark fiction. I don't mind reading about horrible things happening to good people. But you have to give me hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, some happiness to be found, or justice in the end, or failing that, at least a reckoning for the wicked. I would read historical romance, but there is very little of it that isn't either Regency or Scottish/Irish highlanders, and what is left falls into formulaic plots, because those are what romance publishers think and have trained romance readers to want. There's nothing wrong with some hot kilt action, but it's not for me. I'd love detailed world-building, lots of darkness and then a hopeful or happy ending. This goes for urban fantasy authors, too. Stop killing off your main characters at the end of your series or bringing them abject misery in the end.]
The author does seem to have an enjoyable prose, but her characters need more depth. I doubt I will pick up another book by this author.
Now possibly this wouldn't bother me so much but sadly, this is about the most interesting thing about her. You'd think that for all this reinvention she'd be riveting but she isn't. And that takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the story because we rely on her to give color & patina to everything. Often times I was annoyed because it was clear that I had figured out what Esther/Donata/Violante had not (the big reveal at the end didn't astonish me). Not only was she not very self-aware, she had no clue what was going on around her. Even granting that the main character is young, over the course of 500+ pages, one does expect to see some character growth. I gave up on her around 75% in and just remained to find our how it all ended. I wouldn't have believed it possible, but she made the Borgias tedious.
And the "relationship" between Esther/Donata/Violante & Cesare was a complete waste of time. That's because it wasn't much of a relationship. Cesare displayed no qualities that telegraphed "love" for her so who knows why this was an issue that garnered so much attention in the book (I could have lived with just Cesare & La Fiametta trysting). It was a lot of Esther/Donata/Violante pining & fantasizing, some interaction with Cesare, more pining & fantasizing, sparse hook-up, fantasizing & pining. Wash. Rinse. Repeat... while you strike yourself with your Kindle over & over again. She spent the great majority of the story in make-believe & hoping one day it would all come true. Even sickness & childbirth didn't wake her up. It made her seem a simpering twit & not sympathetic. Honestly, if all that had been left out, it may have been a tighter & better told story.
I will say that in spite of everything I've said, other characters did come across well (Angela, Donna Lucrezia, the brothers of the House of Este & Gideon especially) but it becomes an annoyance as you don't spend nearly enough time with them & of course can't get away from the narrator. In the end, this was just okay and I am left a bit disappointed. I had expected a perceptive & sharp telling by a lady in waiting but apparently Esther/Donata/Violante wasn't that person to begin with. She was as disconnected in court as she was with the family she left behind. I suppose there's something to consistency but I wanted more from her. I do wish I'd read broken my rule & read the reviews before I picked up this one. That said, I do think Ms. Bower is a good writer & would read another by her.