From the Back Cover:
For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, a gripping novel that follows the extraordinary life of young Lucrezia Borgia, the legendary Renaissance Pope Alexander’s beautiful daughter. Was she the heartless seductress of legend? Or merely an unsuspecting pawn in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and her own survival?
Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias became Italy’s most ruthless and powerful family, electrifying and terrorizing their 15th-century Renaissance world.
To this day, Lucrezia Borgia is known as one of history’s most notorious villainesses, accused of incest and luring men to doom with her arsenal of poison.
International bestselling author C.W. Gortner’s new novel delves beyond the myth to depict Lucrezia in her own voice, from her pampered childhood in the palaces of Rome to her ill-fated, scandalous arranged marriages and complex relationship with her adored father and her rival brothers—brutal Juan and enigmatic Cesare.
This is the dramatic, untold story of a papal princess who came of age in an era of savage intrigue and unparalleled splendor, and whose courage led her to overcome the fate imposed on her by her Borgia blood.
I'm not a big fan of the Borgias, but I love Gortner's books, so I had faith that he would find a way to make Lucrezia's story fresh and vibrant for me. However, it took me a while to get into this one, and I was worried I would not be able to recommend The Vatican Princess. I found it to follow the plotline of the first season of Showtime's The Borgias pretty closely, and I felt like I was just going over the same old ground. But about halfway through, Lucrezia starts becoming more of an active participant in her life and her story starts to pick up steam, and by the end of the book, I couldn't put it down, and I didn't want it to end.
I think many historical fiction readers know a little bit of Lucrezia's life, so I will not rehash the plot here, rather I'll just sum up what I liked and didn't like about this book. I really had hoped Gortner's portrayal would transcend above the incest speculation and lurid rumors that are always associated with Lucrezia, but I understand that it is a huge part of the Borgias' mystique, and given that these rumors have persisted to the present day, I suppose no novel could get by without making them part of her story. However, I found the portrayal here to be rather disturbing, which I suppose it ought to be, and more on the sensationalistic side. And Lucrezia is really the only likable character, so in a sea of depraved, corrupt, murderous people, the reader is sort of forced to root for her. She is quite young when the novel begins, so I understand why she wasn't as proactive as I like my heroines to be, but by the time she chooses her second husband, she's learning to stand her ground and see her family for what it really is. Though I do wonder if she is perhaps depicted as a little too good to be true here.
There seems to be a bit of a trend developing in historical fiction of just portraying a portion of a historical figure's life in a novel, and I understand why some authors are choosing to focus on years of greater importance or those that lead up to a defining moment in one's life, but Lucrezia has a lot of life to live at the end of this novel, and the ending, while undeniably powerful, left me wanting more.
However, as usual, Gortner's talents shine in bringing the time period to life and in exploring the complicated political alliances of an Italy still divided into so many dukedoms. And the latter half of the book, when the Borgias' enemies are closing in all around them and Lucrezia's brothers descend into paranoid madness, is fraught with tension, suspense, danger, and heartbreak, and I was on the edge of my seat as the story raced to its conclusion. So while this will not be my favorite of Gortner's books--that honor is still held by Mademoiselle Chanel--I think The Vatican Princess is well worth a read for anyone who wants to escape into the world of fifteenth-century Italy and the drama of one of history's most infamous families.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.