Sara Poole – The Borgia Mistress
Length: 410 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Started: 20 July 2012
Finished: 27 July 2012
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the first two books in the series, and have since watched Season 1 of The Borgias, which made me even more excited for this one to come out.
A poisoner is
suspicious by nature, but
can she trust herself?
Summary: Francesca Giordano is the chief poisoner to Pope Alexander IV, Rodrigo Borgia: an unlikely position for a woman to hold, but Francesca is an unusual woman. Borgia has enemies on all sides, and when he orders the papal enclave to travel to a small town north of Rome, Francesca must be extra vigilant. For she has heard rumors that there is an assassin on his way, an assassin who threatens not the life of the pope, but rather his alliance with Spain, an alliance that is critical to his continued reign. But will Francesca be able to protect the Spanish ambassador, when she is slowly being driven to distraction by her continual nightmares of blood and death? As her mind begins to unravel, Francesca is no longer sure who she can trust – not her friends, not her lover Cesare Borgia – or if she can even trust herself.
Review: I had a friend spot this book on my end table, glance at the cover, and ask “Really?” And while I see her point – the title is rather misleading, and the cover art makes it look more lurid than I think the book actually is – the truth is that this book absolutely is escapist historical fiction. But it’s very well-done, non-trashy, well-written escapist historical fiction, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as I expected to.
Poole is just as good at evoking her settings and atmosphere as she was in the previous two books, and I enjoyed having the time period brought so vividly to life for me. She’s also very good with her characterizations; I really enjoy her depiction of Cesare Borgia, and Francesca is sympathetic as ever. Poole has also mostly abandoned Francesca’s narrative tics that were my biggest complaint about the first novel, perhaps because Francesca is maturing, or more likely because Poole’s more confident in her character and her story. It also may help that this is a much more inward-turned book than the previous two; there’s the assassin to be dealt with, but much of the conflict in the story is Francesca versus herself.
There were some elements that kept this book from being entirely great, however. I figured out the big reveal long, long before anyone in the story managed to, which left me wishing that the mystery had been a little more complicated. Also, this book features a prologue depicting the massacre of the Cathars several hundred years before Francesca’s time, but it’s not at all clear for most of the book how that one scene fits in with anything else, and the theme only reappears briefly near the end. I think the church’s suppression of the Cathars is an interesting topic with a lot of story potential, and I wish it had been incorporated more centrally throughout the book, especially after an introduction that suggests that was going to be the case.
Overall, though, The Borgia Mistress is well-written and absorbing piece of fiction, and I will be looking forward to the next installment of Francesca’s story. (And re-watching The Borgias in the meantime. Heh.) 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Although the action in this one is relatively stand-alone, the characterizations are less so, and Poison is good enough that I can’t recommend starting anywhere but there. But the series as a whole is definitely recommended to historical fiction fans, particularly those who like the Borgias, or who are just tired of the Tudors.
Other Reviews: Can’t find any. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: “Hélène! Where are you?”
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 35: ““Even so,” Renaldo said, “the touts are giving five to two against there being a falling-out between them anytime in the next year.”” – a person who spies on a horse in training for the purpose of betting.
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