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Sara Poole – Poison

May 16, 2011

60. Poison by Sara Poole (2010)
Poisoner Mysteries, Book 1

Length: 392 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 26 April 2011
Finished: 29 April 2011

Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? It went on my wishlist thanks to its inclusion in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 January 2011.

A poisoner who
is using her knowledge to
save lives, not take them.

Summary: Francesca Giordano is the daughter of the poisoner employed by Rodrigo Borgia. When her father is murdered in the street, she petitions Borgia to allow her to take his place. While her secret motivation is vengeance for her father, her main responsibilities are making sure Borgia and his household remain safe from the poisons of his rivals, and occasionally using her knowledge to help further Borgia’s ambitions… ambitions that stop at nothing short of the papacy. But what Francesca uncovers is a plot that ranges far wider than the Borgias and their rivals, a plot that will take Francesca from the heart of the Jewish Ghetto to the depths of the catacombs beneath the Vatican, a plot of unspeakable evil that could change the face of Europe forever.

Review: I haven’t read a ton of historical fiction this year, but a lot of what I have read has been really, really good, and Poison is up at the top of the pack. If all of the historical fiction novels on my shelf were as good as this, I’d be a very happy camper indeed.

Let’s run down the checklist of what I want out of my historical fiction, shall we? An well-evoked and interesting setting with which I am not overly familiar? Poison‘s got it. I’ve read plenty of books set in the early Renaissance, plenty set in Rome (this was my third in a row, actually), and at least one that features the Borgias (Gregory Maguire’s Mirror, Mirror), but this was the first I’ve read that involves the papacy and the upper echelons of the Catholic Church so directly. Its plot involving anti-semitism, the Inquisition, the machinations of the Borgias, and the early stirrings of the Renaissance was completely fascinating. In addition, Poole’s great at bringing her settings to life, to the point where I could practically feel the Roman summer heat and the creeping chill of the crypts.

Next on the checklist: a complex, well-developed, and relatable main character? Check! Francesca’s got a great voice, and I really enjoyed her point of view; she’s probably somewhat anachronistically independent-minded, but she was so much fun to read that I didn’t really mind. Poole’s other characters were equally well-drawn, and I particularly enjoyed her interpretations of Cesare and the young Lucrezia Borgia – not traditionally villainous, but still within the realm of historical believability. (Also appreciated is the author’s note in which she separates historical fact from authorial invention.)

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t love was the habit Poole had of starting a scene or digression, and then having Francesca demur from telling us more, citing discretion or protection from a poisoner’s knowledge or whatever. Used sparingly, it would have been cute and charming and helped to develop Francesca’s character. However, after a while, it started to feel like Poole’s way of getting around a scene she didn’t want to write, or research she hadn’t done.

But in the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty minor issue. Other than that, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and can’t wait to read the sequel. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of historical fiction, mysteries involving the Catholic church, or the Borgias should definitely check this out.

And hey, it’s available for the Kindle for $2.99 until June!

As an only tangentially related side note: Why am I only finding out now that Jeremy Irons is playing Rodrigo Borgia in the Showtime series, and why am I not watching it RIGHT NOW? …other than not having Showtime, I mean.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bibliophibian, A Few More Pages, One Librarian’s Book Reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The white bull charged down the chute into the piazza.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 79: “When he was not yet seven, his father arranged for Cesare to be made apostolic pronotary to the pope.” – one of seven clerks in the Catholic church charged chiefly with the registry of pontifical acts and canonizations.
  • p. 254: “With the change of mood came the dragée, intended to close the meal and promote good digestion. Spicy hypocrase was poured and plates of sugared almonds offered around along with a selection of aged cheeses and fresh figs and oranges.” – a sweet made of a nut, fruit, etc, coated with a hard sugar icing; variant of hippocras: an old English drink of wine flavoured with spices

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2011 1:13 pm

    My book club read The Borgia Bride and I didn’t like it, so I probably won’t look for this book.

    • May 20, 2011 11:06 am

      Kathy – Oh, that’s too bad, although unless it was specifically the setting that you didn’t like, you might still do okay with other books about the Borgias.

  2. May 25, 2011 5:41 pm

    I have it on my TBR pile and I haven’t really felt like picking it up until now. But I’ve been hungry for a good historical fiction, and my “checklist” is similar to yours. I think I need to dig it out from the pile!

    • May 27, 2011 9:55 am

      Kay – My checklist is admittedly pretty generic, but on any scale, I thought Poison was great! I hope you like it too!

  3. June 10, 2011 11:55 am

    I’ll keep this in mind next time I have Renaissance cravings.

    • June 13, 2011 1:20 pm

      Memory – I don’t know that I’ve ever had cravings by period, but this would definitely be good for Renaissance cravings. The sequel just came out recently (last week, I think), which is on the one hand awesome, but on the other hand sad because my LibraryThing EarlyReviewer copy of it never showed up! The only time that’s happened to me, and it had to be on a book I really, really wanted to read… :(

  4. SofiaNoelle permalink
    June 28, 2011 11:26 pm

    What were the other books that you read set in the early Renaissance?

    • June 29, 2011 9:26 am

      Sofia – Let’s see… Sarah Dunant’s books, The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark, Immortal by Traci Slatton, The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen, I’m sure there’s more that I’m just not thinking of at the moment…

      • SofiaNoelle permalink
        June 29, 2011 9:31 am

        I’ve sadly become very attached to the poison books, something I don’t like doing with unfinished series, so I need some fillers until the next book comes out. I’ll definitely check those out!

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