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Sara Poole – The Borgia Betrayal

July 4, 2011

LibraryThing Early Reviewers83. The Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole (2011)
Poisoner Mysteries, Book 2

Length: 400 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 20 June 2011
Finished: 21 June 2011

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Poison, the first book in the series, and I like historical mysteries in general.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 June 2011.

A poisoner must
protect as well as kill, but
does that risk her soul?

Summary: If Francesca Giordano had thought that her job as chief poisoner to Rodrigo Borgia would get any easier once he achieved his life’s ambition – to ascend to the papacy, it was just wishful thinking. Because it appears that someone is out to poison the Pope, and they are not shy about attacking Borgia through those that are closest to him. Francesca has a sick feeling she knows who’s behind it – the same man who murdered her father, and against whom she has sworn vengeance – but he is a clever opponent, and Francesca may not be able to draw him out… not without risking everything.

Review: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Poison – I like historical fiction as a rule, but even so, it was a definite stand-out. So I was hoping for equally good things from The Borgia Betrayal… and for the most part, I got them. Francesca’s still a very engaging protagonist; capable and intelligent and layered and maybe a little anachronistically feminist, but fun and relatable all the same. Poole also does a great job evoking 1490s Rome, and I loved that Columbus’s discovery of the New World played a part in the political underpinnings of this book. The writing in The Borgia Betrayal is even smoother than it was in Poison, and the “I could tell you more but I wouldn’t want to lead you into sin” bits that annoyed me in the first book are toned down enough that they didn’t bother me this time around.

My problem with this book was that it didn’t feel as fresh as the first book did. The plot wasn’t quite as complex, and it felt like it was covering a lot of familiar ground. Granted, Poole’s storylines are at least highly enjoyable familiar ground. But with the same bad guy, same basic danger, quite a few of the same locations, etc., I wound up feeling like the story and the plot hadn’t grown as much as I’d expect from a second novel, and like Poole maybe wasn’t pushing herself as an author as much as she could… and therefore it wasn’t quite as engaging for me as a reader. Still a lot of fun to read, just not quite as great as I’d been hoping. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: While this book involves the same characters, it’s written so as to be mostly self-contained, and could be read independently. Either of the Poisoner Mysteries should definitely appeal to fans of historical fiction, particularly Sarah Dunant’s books on a woman’s life in Renaissance Italy.

“We are all of us balanced on Fortuna’s wheel, clinging as best we can lest we tumble heedlessly into Fata’s dark maw. Yet we can, if we dare, let go and in that golden moment find the strength of our own wings unfurling.” -p. 185

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First Line: “I see…,” the woman said.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 201: “Or failing that, a personal favorite of mine, oil of belladonna substituted for one of the many fraudulent chrisms the foolish believe can protect them from poison.” – a consecrated oil, usually mixed with balsam or balsam and spices, used by certain churches in various rites, as in baptism, confirmation, and the like.
  • p. 237: “I knew that he had been in difficult positions before but there had always been a certain brio to him, a combination of enthusiasm and confidence that carried all else before it.” – vigor; vivacity.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2011 7:44 am

    Most of the time sequels aren’t as great as the first book, which for me is really frustrating.
    I’ve heard about these books before, and though I didn’t read them the fact that in that time period the Borgias choose a female to do their dirty work seems unlikely to me.

    • July 11, 2011 12:17 pm

      carolina – Francesca owns up to how weird it is, and she’s certainly not accepted by most of society, gets called a witch, etc. Basically, her father was the Borgia’s poisoner, and she learned from him, since her mother was dead, and then when he was killed she sort of forced Borgia to give her the job. (That’s all in the first chapter of the first book; not a spoiler.)

  2. July 4, 2011 2:54 pm

    I’ll have to think about this. I read a Borgia book for my book club recently and found I really didn’t care for the Borgias.

    • July 11, 2011 12:18 pm

      Kathy – It might still be worth a try… the Borgias are portrayed so differently by different authors that it might have been a matter of perspective. I think Poole’s depiction is interesting, and doesn’t fall back on any a lot of the Borgia stereotypes.

  3. July 4, 2011 3:52 pm

    I definitely think I should read the first in the series – this still sounds appealing enough to continue. Historical mysteries have been striking a peculiar chord with me recently!

    • July 11, 2011 12:19 pm

      Meghan – Yes, for sure! I think you’ll get a kick out of these; they seem right up your alley.

  4. July 5, 2011 9:09 am

    I have had the Borgias on my mind lately because there is a new series or something that keeps being advertised on TV. It looks good, but I am the worst for watching things…

    • July 11, 2011 12:20 pm

      Kailana – I want to watch it too – especially since I found out that Jeremy Irons is playing Rodrigo – but I don’t get Showtime, so I’ll have to wait for the DVDs.

  5. July 5, 2011 7:45 pm

    I do like the Borgias….I hadn’t heard of this duo.

    • July 11, 2011 12:20 pm

      Carrie – They’re both pretty recent books, and well worth checking out!

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