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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly and psychologically acute re-telling of the Borgia story
This is a wonderfully engaging re-telling of the Borgia family story from Roderigo's election as Pope Alexander VI in 1492 to Lucrezia's third marriage into the d'Este family in 1502. Dunant resists just churning out the usual scurrilous stories of incest, poisoning, murder and decadence, and instead offers a more complex tale of complicated politics and characters...
Published 12 months ago by Roman Clodia

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shallow
A great shame since I had greatly enjoyed Dunant's previous novels loosely based on history. Her attention to incidental social and artistic detail had been accurate and flavoursome. This, however is shallow and tedious. The characters are just dull and though events are, typically of the period,horrendously violent one really could not care less about he suffering of the...
Published 23 months ago by Dr. Keith Charlton


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly and psychologically acute re-telling of the Borgia story, 14 May 2014
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Kindle Edition)
This is a wonderfully engaging re-telling of the Borgia family story from Roderigo's election as Pope Alexander VI in 1492 to Lucrezia's third marriage into the d'Este family in 1502. Dunant resists just churning out the usual scurrilous stories of incest, poisoning, murder and decadence, and instead offers a more complex tale of complicated politics and characters.

The narrative is marked by a sly wit: `the Pope sits in darkness in his bedchamber. Recently his legs have been causing him trouble. Perhaps he is not used to spending so much time on his knees', and is clear-sighted about the characters: `To be lauded as a hero for a battle that everyone knows you didn't win could be a burden as much as a triumph. Juan, however, manages to remain oblivious'.

At the book's heart is Roderigo (pope, devoted family man, easily moved to tears yet ruthless when necessary) and the wonderfully menacing and yet dangerously charismatic Cesare who steals every scene in which he appears. Dunant manages his portrait sensitively and gives him a psychological acuity frequently missing from the more sensationalist literature: her treatment of the capture of Caterina Sforza, for example, is masterly.

Dunant's previous Renaissance books haven't really worked for me but I loved this. It's one of those rare books that I wanted to read slowly to savour the pleasure of every page - and I can't wait for the second volume in the story. This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far - highly recommended.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting!, 6 May 2013
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
Get ready to clear your calendars and cancel your weekend plans because i could not put this book down! It's clearly all based on solid fact but she made the characters so alive and real it was like watching a movie in history class. I really appreciated the way in which the family interacted with each other because they seemed like real people and this made me actually care about what they did and what happened to them. I didn't know much about the complexities of the politics before reading this book and so her ability to clearly lay out the political landscape/drama made it all the more compelling.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, 2 May 2013
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
Be prepared - this will take over your life for several days. It's like watching a series of Renaissance frescos come to life and movement. Every scene is written with such beautiful attention to detail - to colours and textures and smells - but is also devoted to understanding the members of this extraordinary family on their own terms, not as bill boards for contemporary standards of morality. Dunant allows us to make up our own minds. She's a time-traveller with a transgressive curiosity: she's drawn to the doors with the No Entry signs so you end up seeing into the places no one has really dared to look before: bedrooms, kitchens, gardens as well as the corridors of power. The pacing is fast but the counterpointed reflective scenes are often moving and tender, so that you see the machinations of power and then the moments of vulnerability. A fascinating read.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family matters, 3 May 2013
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
From the moment the 65 year old Rodrigo Borgia shouts `I am Pope' and the next page reveals his teenage daughter Lucrezia sleeping next to his young mistress Guilia, the pace never slackens in this operatic unfolding of the great dysfunctional dynasty in Renaissance Europe.

I had a rather clouded view of the Borgias as the ultimate cruel and corrupted family, especially of the daughter Lucrezia, who has gathered a reputation over time as the face of depravity. But this book plunged me into the heart of a family of talented, seductive individuals consistently conflicted between love and loyalty.

I have loved Sarah Dunant's Renaissance novels for the way in which she chooses to show that turbulent period from a woman's perspective: she now moves from brilliantly researched fiction to a fictional perspective on these larger than life historical figures who 500 years have been centre-stage for gossip, spin and misrepresentation.

The Borgias were of course ruthless and cruel but the book does the brilliant job of giving context and human dimensions to the outsider family who set out to conquer Europe. Starting with the master politician, Rodrigo, who seizes the power offered by the papacy to further his dynasty, the book shows how the four children play their part in his vision of a Borgia empire. They shape-shift, they rewrite history and they transgress - with this goal in mind. But what becomes clear is how the complex ties of emotion between the different members of the family are drawn ever deeper as expediency takes precedent over personal feeling.

The blood of the title is the ambition of the family as well as blood carelessly spilt: the beauty is the seductive charm of the brothers and the daughter and sister who bow to their father's political will. It could equally be called power and flesh - everyone is used in the political arena in a brutal and unforgiving fashion.

For the Borgias the personal is over-ruled by the political - and the bonds of family can, it seems, never be broken.

This version of the Borgia story makes the key individuals both spectacular and real. Above all it keeps them grounded in their unique family dynamic. Watching Game of Thrones with its similar battles for dynastic power is gripping but it's fantasy. Blood and Beauty feels very real - and looking at how contemporary Italian politicians have bought and controlled the media, it doesn't feel too far away.

When is the sequel due?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1492 and all that . . ., 10 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
I have only recently discovered how important a turning point the year 1492 was in European history. Of course, Columbus sailed the ocean blue that year, but it was also the year of the reconquista in Spain (after which Spain rewrote it's own history . . . and what did happen to the Visigoths?) and the year of the first Borgia pope (interestingly, also Spanish -- the first non-Italian pope). In this year, Katherine of Aragon was still a young women, her marriage into England still a few years in the future. (see Philippa Gregory's "The Constant Princess" for that story.)

I love Sarah Dunant's books because they enhance my understanding of European history from the point of view of the Italian peninsula . . . well researched and well told. So, if you are trying to piece together a history of "Europe", rather than histories written from the perspectives of present day national boundaries, this book is an important part of the jigsaw puzzle. (It does make me wonder why such a history is underpinned by "women's stories" -- dynastic marriage is not a sufficient explanation, but I suppose it is part of the explanation . . . it was the women who moved from place to place as they were married.)
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5.0 out of 5 stars THOROUGHLY RESEARCHED, BEAUTIFULLY PRESENTED, 30 July 2013
By 
Gail Cooke (TX, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Gifted actor Edoardo Ballerini has the perfect voice to vivify the story of one of the most famous (or infamous, if you prefer) families in history - the Borgias. Ballerini has received numerous Earphones Awards and has a list of outstanding screen credits including The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. Few can bring history to life on the page as splendidly as Sarah Dunant, and few can give voice to it as compellingly as Edoardo Ballerini. This audio edition of Blood & Beauty is a rare treat.

Now, some may think they're familiar with the story of the Borgias but Dunant has a gift for catching revealing details oft overlooked by other authors, thus her story becomes an upclose and personal account - one that totally captures us.

We are transported to Rome at the end of the 15th century - it is a city marked not only by beauty but by corruption. Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia has bought his way into the papacy, and he is a man of unbridled lust and greed. He is Spanish in a city run by Italians, and he well knows it. So he uses every tool at his command to gain what he wants, all the while involving and using his children in his machinations.

His eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter, Lucrezia, are of the greatest use to him. Cesare is a particularly compelling, haunting figure. He does not stop at manipulating his own sister to gain his ends. Lucrezia is a 12-year-old child when this story opens and we watch her innocence fade, marry three times, and lose all traces of naivete.

Beauty & Blood is a remarkable literary achievement, thoroughly researched, beautifully presented.

- Gail Cooke
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5.0 out of 5 stars Feel the passion, the cruelty, the extravagance of late 15thcentury life fair drip off the page., 22 July 2013
Renaissance Italy gifted history with the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Botticelli, Machiavelli and many, many others. But it would not be complete without the inclusion of the wealthy city states and families who were the patrons of many of these celebrated artists and writers. And especially the families who controlled the Papacy. No family was more notorious or infamous than the Borgias with their time at the Vatican. Of Spanish origin, under the control of firstly Pope Calixtus III, and then his nephew Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia family was not going to let anything stand in its way of controlling the whole of Italy, creating alliances and subsequently destroying them as it suited. Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI when he was 61 having served under a number of popes for years prior to his 'election'. He fathered at least four illegitimate children who were instrumental in his grand plans for domination. These four - Giovanni, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Jofre - were born to the same mother, and are the subject of this novel. History has not been kind to the Borgia family, portraying them as murderers, poisoners, incestuous, torturers, thieves, adulterers, bribers - the list goes on. Their ambition was without parallel.

It would seem there are enough diaries and letters from this period to believe that much of the history is true. The author, who has published a number of other stunning novels set in the Renaissance period, has researched her subject extensively if her bibliography and historical epilogue are anything to go by. The result is a truly fabulously rich and detailed historical novel of real people based on real events. At 500+ pages it is a lot of reading, but what a read it is. The novel begins in 1492 when Rodrigo, surprise surprise finds himself pope, his four children range in age from 17 to 10, his mistress is the very beautiful Guilia, his enemies are many and various and he immediately begins the task of immortalising the Borgia name forever.

Primarily this involves building alliances with the other powerful Italian families - the Sforza, the Medici, the d'Este, the d'Aragon, as well as the noble Spanish families, and keeping on the good side of the French. And how does he do this? By betrothing and marrying off his children, repetitively, either as a result of death, annulment, or changed mind. His 'accomplice' in all this becomes his second son, the ruthless, cruel and syphilitic mad Cesare. His main 'pawn' is the very beautiful, intelligent and accomplished Lucrezia. And the story, as narrated in this novel, is essentially her story. The author appears to have taken a much more compassionate view of Lucrezia than her portrayal by historians, casting her as a means to an end by her father, and with very little, if any control of her own destiny. Hardly unusual for a young lady of her standing at this time.

The author is apparently working on a sequel to this novel, which continues the saga and fates of the Borgia, again with considerable emphasis on Lucrezia Borgia who becomes more determined to be in charge of her own destiny. I can't wait. This is marvellous reading, never boring, sumptuous in its detail, strangely narrated entirely in the present tense making it more real and life like. The conversations and dialogue are like real conversations, the passions are intense, the power, ambition and violence fair drips off the page. It is stunning reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Beauty, 26 Jun. 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
This is a novel set on a grand scale; the story of the Borgias from the accession as Pope Alexander VI of Roderic (Rodrigo) Borgia in 1492. The name of the Borgias resounds now with ideas of licentiousness, nepotism, greed and ambition on a gigantic papal scale, with the Borgia `bastards' scouring Italy and Europe with unsheathed swords and libidinous behaviour, scandal following in their wake. But at the core, who were the Borgias and what did they strive for?

Pope Alexander VI was most definitely a man of ambition who scaled the slopes towards the papal throne with great determination. His children, most notably those born to him by Vanozza dei Cattanei (Giovanni, Cesar, Lucrezia and Jofre) have come to us as larger than life figures who impacted in their various ways on the whole of Europe throughout their lives. Their legacies and their reputations lasted long after.

Renaissance Italy, and indeed Renaissance Europe, was a hotbed of ambition, war, religious fervour and argument - Savonarola; the Medici; the French wars; the ambitions of Spain. All are shown in this book, but are they really brought to life? This book is a really good historical novel. Where it fails to reach a 5-star rating as a really great historical novel is, in my opinion, that it never really `gets under the skin' of the characters. While we see the narrative of action and activity that flowed around the Borgia family, we never really get to see the internal characters of those Borgias themselves. There is, it seems, to be another book to follow on the story of the Borgias - I will definitely look to read this book, but I'm not sure yet that it will be as good as I would like to think it could be.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Like a bar of swiss chocolate...., 3 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
Having been a great fan of Sarah Dunant's previous Renaissance novels, I approached Blood and Beauty with great anticipation - and my excitement was rewarded in spades. This is a better book than her previous novels and that is high prauise indeed. The writing is exquisite.. images like the one of an army marching like a giant magnet with hangers-on clinging like filings indicate what a great wordsmith Ms Dunant is...and her handle on the history as as secure as one would expect from a trained historian - yet suffused with the sense of the period that only a very skilled novelist can produce; you could smell Rome and feel the dust and heat...but most of all I loved the characters. The parvenu Borgias are so very colourful yet she cleverly avoids the temptation to give way to the more scurrilous stories, and indeed this made them much more human & understandable..Despite all I have read about the amoral and unlovable Cesare I found myself feeling sympathy for him at times and even understanding his brutality. And the Pope! such a fabulous beast of a man, excessive in every way - as a reader, you couldn't really help warming to him. However what marked the book out for me was the lesser people..the writer paints a picture of a world where everyone has a back history - Burchard and Vanozza and Pedro Calderon.. I felt I knew them all and could imagine them into life. Nothing jarred, everything was in its place.. revolving around a far more complex and interesting Lucrezia than we normally meet in novels.
This is like a bar of Swiss chocolate or a malt whisky - a treat to be savoured. Dont rush it, or read it in bits.. take your time and enjoy steeping into the world of the Borgias, guided by a mistress of storytelling. Roll on the next book...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Papal intrigue served up on a chilled platter., 24 May 2013
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
Sarah Dunant is the go-to writer for upmarket historical fiction. In the Company of the Courtesan, Sacred Hearts and The Birth of Venus - all were hugely enjoyable especially In The Company Of The Courtesan which was a particularly memorable read.

Here, she dips her eloquent quill into the murky ink of the Borgias. The machinations of Pope Alexander Vl's papal court are, you might say, a gift from on high for Ms Dunant. Eldest son Cesare (played in my head by a young Rufus Sewell) is smoulderingly handsome, clever, brave and being groomed to follow in His Holiness The Pope's red-slippered footsteps. Middle brother Juan is a preening popinjay married into a strategic dukedom. And youngest brother Jofré is married off at the tender age of 13 into another beneficial alliance. Jofré's gorgeous wife, Sancia, is bedded in turn by his two brothers but in fact Cesare is really in love with his beautiful sister Lucrezia. Add the power games between Italy's belligerent city-states into the mix, along with outside threats from France and Spain, and you have a heady brew indeed.

Presented with this wealth of political and amatory intrigue, Ms Dunant seems to sink under the weight of it all. She has little option but to sweep through the intricacies of these plots aplenty, only occasionally touching on their deeper emotional impact. Compared to the characters in her previous books, the Borgias come across as lacking in depth (Lucrezia is surprisingly vapid) and occasionally the dialogue is clunky with exposition. There is also a hint of Hilary Mantel's shadow hanging over the whole thing, especially as Ms Dunant writes in the present tense. I am sure that the hallowed Miss Mantel must loom over a great many historical novelists now but Sarah Dunant has a distinctive voice of her own and must resist borrowing another. I enjoyed this book and found the story of the Borgias engrossing but this isn't quite the five-star read that I'd been hoping for and expecting.
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Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant (Hardcover - 2 May 2013)
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