Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons by Roberta Gellis

Lucrezia Borgia.  Adulteress? Maybe.  Poisoner and lover of Cesare and their father?  Definitely not according to this novel.  At first I found myself skeptical of a book portraying Lucrezia as an innocent victim, but I found myself enjoying it far more than some of the other Borgia novels I’ve read recently.

Here we have a Lucrezia who is nothing more than a pawn in her family’s schemes and a victim of malicious rumors that she is all too willing to escape.  However, her retirement to Ferrara  is short-lived when one of her ladies in waiting is killed via poison and her new husband publically accuses her of performing the deed.  Now those nasty rumors she travelled halfway across the country to escape are bound to spring up again, because, quite frankly, she had not exactly been welcoming to the ladies appointed to her.  So, in order to save her own reputation, she dons her Nancy Drew clothes, several times in loving details, and with her four fondest ladies, Angela, Shadow of Angela, Guilio and Ferrante, begins a several day investigation.  I include Guilio and Ferrante as her ladies because they serve much the same purpose; ie being generally air-headed and gathering court gossip.

Which leads me to my only real complaint about the book.  The story is basically the Italian Renaissance version of Larry Boy and the Rumor Weed, and Lucrezia laments several times about how rumors ruined her Roman life.  Yet while the air-heads are joking about the original creeper trying to peer up men’s skirts at their privates, she remarks to the reader that Ferrante was rumored to have a fondness for pretty boys.  Which has absolutely no relevance to the rest of the plot.  At all.  In fact, he spends the rest of the time trying to bang Shadow of Angela.  Lucrezia even asks her later about how she swats away his amorous advances.  In fact, the line only serves to highlight the author’s disregard for the character.  Later, one of the ladies remarks Ferrante is far too air-headed for Lucrezia to truly be fond of him.  Bitch, please.  That is her BFF you are talking about.  At the very least, he was her favorite in-law after Isabella’s husband.

Treatment of Ferrante aside, let’s get back to the plot.  Lucrezia seems to be getting nowhere with her investigation until she discovers the identity of the dead woman’s lover.  All the nasty ladies in waiting she interviews seem to have solid alibis for the time of the murder.  Attempts on her life are made, and then another murder occurs!  This time her main suspect is murdered at a masquerade, stabbed in the throat supposedly by Alfonso’s younger brother.  Balls.

Another attempt is made on her life, and Lucrezia and the physician discover how the poison was administered, which again broadens the suspect list.  Poisoned lotion!  Remember, never accept medication from anyone other than a licensed physician.  Lucrezia deduces it was a woman because only a woman could have possibly impersonated Alfonso’s youngest brother.  But all her ladies were accounted for at the time of the second murder.

Surprise!  One of her ladies makes perfumes and lotions and has a bastard sister who looks remarkably like her.  Turns out the poor dead woman was about to marry a Florentine and the murderess wanted to stop the marriage so she could marry him and reclaim her family’s lost property.  Busted.  So the woman is apprehended, and Lucrezia and Alfonso are reconciled.  And no, I don’t believe Ferrante ever succeeded in banging Shadow of Angela.  Maybe he wasn’t trying that hard, or maybe it’s too hard to bang someone without a personality.

Throughout it all, the only character who gets any development is Lucrezia.  The rest feel like paper dolls the author decided she wanted to play with, even if she didn’t like some of them , because they came in a set.  Lucrezia herself is a lot like that Bon Jovi song, “Bounce”.  Not only does she bounce back from whatever those petty rumors throw at her, she likes it rough.  Like, two pages detailing how excited she gets when her great bear of a husband comes to her bedchamber in a temper.  And how it was, like, the best orgasm she ever had.  Clearly that was only because she had yet to meet Francesco.

Lucrezia and the Mother of Poisons is available at a number of fine retailers and is recommended if you’re interested in Historical whodunits or a different take on Lucrezia Borgia.


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