Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 1, 2016

Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias became Italy’s most ruthless and powerful family, electrifying and terrorizing their 15th-century Renaissance world. To this day, Lucrezia Borgia is known as one of history’s most notorious villainesses, accused of incest and luring men to doom with her arsenal of poison. International bestselling author C.W. Gortner’s new novel delves beyond the myth to depict Lucrezia in her own voice, from her pampered childhood in the palaces of Rome to her ill-fated, scandalous arranged marriages and complex relationship with her adored father and her rival brothers—brutal Juan and enigmatic Cesare. This is the dramatic, untold story of a papal princess who came of age in an era of savage intrigue and unparalleled splendor, and whose courage led her to overcome the fate imposed on her by her Borgia blood.

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I didn’t set out to read C.W. Gortner’s The Vatican Princess because I love the Borgias. I appreciate their role in politics, but I’ve never been particularly enamored with their legendary drama. Truth be told, my interest in the novel was inspired by the author who penned it. Gortner’s books hold a treasured place in my personal library and I couldn’t resist adding another of his volumes to my collection.

Historically speaking, I’m accustomed to seeing Lucretia painted as a cold and calculating temptress, but the vulnerable and vibrant woman Gortner created within these pages bears little resemblance to traditional interpretation. She is introduced as a naïve innocent and I found the development of her personal and political awareness refreshingly thought-provoking. To the outside world she is an integral part of a frighteningly powerful family, but behind the scenes she is considered little more than a pawn to be bought, sold, traded, and used in her family’s ambitious and deadly machinations. As a reader, I sympathized with her character, fell in love with her tenacity, and adored the juxtaposition in how she ultimately wielded her own brand Borgia determination and strength against her oppressors. 

Speaking of antagonists, I was thoroughly impressed with Gortner’s range. Too often authors paint good and evil in simple opposition, but Lucretia’s adversaries are a diverse collection of serpents that challenge her both emotionally and physically. Gortner doesn’t hold back in his descriptions of Borgia brutality and I felt the approach, while graphic, created a necessary intensity in the fabric of the narrative. The material is shocking and uncomfortable, but the author’s handling of the subject matter produces a tangible tension and unsettling sense of menace in the minds of his audience. 

Gortner utilizes the lurid myths surrounding the family to his advantage, but historically speaking, he takes relatively few liberties. There are embellishments here and there, but I’ve no complaint regarding his deviations. He blend of fact and fiction is seamless and the changes he incorporated into the narrative only enhance the telling. 

A sympathetic portrait steeped in passionate political intrigue, The Vatican Princess stands as testament to both Gortner’s talent and vision. In redefining Lucretia his novel challenges long-standing standing perceptions and bring new dimension to the life she lived.

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“There can be no other reason. Infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood. It is the price of being a Borgia”
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