I love this book. It was one of the first ones I picked up when I decided to read as many novels about the Borgias as I could find, and at this point, it’s my favorite. At first I found the main character, converso Violante to be annoying with her constant mooning over Cesare; however, the rich setting was enough to keep my interested. Because while Violante is being deceived by Cesare and his sister, much larger political schemes are at play that she’s barely aware of, schemes that could possibly change her life forever. While the plot can morph into molasses at points, if you’re interested in the subject matter, it’s definitely worth reading.
While the American title of this book is Sins of the House of Borgia, outside of Angela, Lucrezia, and the shadow of Cesare, much of the plot centers around the Este in-laws, particularly Ferrante and Guilo. At this point, this is the first book I’ve read about Lucrezia’s third marriage that included them in any large capacity, especially considering their plot against their brother that this book covers extensively. However, it makes sense for them to be included. Guilo is in love with Angela, Violante’s friend and occasional lover which brings him frequently to her attention, and Ferrante and Violante form a friendship on the basis that they are both outsiders trying to pass for something they are not. Sarah Bower even goes as far as to try to explain the circumstances that not only led to Guilio to rebellion, but why Ferrante joined him (when by all historical accounts he was incredibly lazy), possibly giving them the most life in the entire book.
The Borgias themselves are rather paper-thin. Cesare is never known enough by Violante to be known to the reader, Angela doesn’t seem to do much expect cause trouble and to cause titillating lesbian scenes with Violante (why is it okay for random lesbian scenes but any random gay scenes in a similar novel would be a no-no in the industry?), and Lucrezia herself seems to flip-flop between scheming mastermind to frivolous lady without any real indication as to why. However, Violante did get some interesting character development, and while I didn’t particularly care about the state of her relationship with Cesare, I did start to feel sorry for her for constantly getting duped by him and his sister. I did have a moment where she became my favorite character, when she started to hate Cesare because all he did for her was impregnate her and give her the pox, but then she fell back in love with him because he was sick and “needed” her, so I went back to appreciating the general awesomeness that was Ferrante in this particular rendition.
The big twist at the end was not really that surprising. After all, anyone who writes about the Borgias will eventually have to decide where they stand on the incest issue, especially when writing about Cesare and Lucrezia, whether or not it has any actual bearing on the rest of the book. The author must make that decision evident in the rest of the book whether outright stated or not, and in this Sarah Bower excels. Despite being slow to like the main character and it not really being about the Borgias despite what the title claims and the random lesbian scenes (because all girls at that time were secretly lesbians!), this remains one of the best books that I have read about the time period. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the time period, or even someone interested in the Este family.