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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family matters
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,...
Published 14 months ago by Hannahrc

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars cracking start...
But lost momentum, somehow. Impossible to write a book featuring the Borgias which was true to historical fact with a rounded ending, but that made the choice of subject a bit baffling. Interesting, avoids too much of the sensational but not....satisfying somehow.
Published 12 months ago by Casey


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15 of 16 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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34 of 38 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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10 of 11 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another good read from Sarah Dunant, 3 July 2013
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This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Kindle Edition)
Read this on holiday in Italy, so it felt right from the outset. Good balance between human intrigue and politics. I didn't find the politics heavy going which is a tribute to the writing style, I think. Handy family tree and map.

Is it a true history? I'm not qualified to judge, but I trust the author's research and understand it is one interpretation of events. As a fictionalised account, it makes a satisfying read and that's what I was after.
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2 of 2 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
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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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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Beauty, 18 May 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Kindle Edition)
It is the summer of 1492 and the death of Pope Innocent VIII has left the papal throne empty, ready for the new incumbent. In Conclave, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia is busy doing what he does best - plotting. Never one to embark on anything half heartedly, his gleeful shouts of, "I am Pope!" lack dignity, but show us what lies ahead. For Rodrigo Borgia is a new kind of pontiff; unashamedly using nepotism to advance the careers of his children, making political alliances, waging war and always plotting for more power. This is historical fiction at its best - sumptuous and rich in detail, with characters you can sympathise with and care about. The author really makes this era come alive as she unravels the myths of the Borgia family and tells the story of their rise and the beginnings of their fall.

Much of our sympathy is focused on Lucrezia, who, although adored and petted by her father and elder brother, Cesare, soon finds that her main use is in the marriage market. Cesare is, of course, the ultimate in jaunty evil. Given as a hostage by his father, he casually remarks, "I think, if it meets with your approval, I will not go the whole way..." There is a great deal of tension between Cesare and brother Juan; while younger brother Jofre is portrayed as the typical spoilt and petulant youngest child. The author manages to get the right balance of intrigue, fear, naked ambition and danger into the storyline, which rattles along at a great pace. This would be ideal summer reading at the beach - a fantastic story, wonderful setting and a family we seem to never tire of reading about.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sympathy for the Borgias, 6 May 2013
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Hardcover)
Sarah Dunant's previous two novels set during this rich and vital period of Italian history, The Birth of Venus and In The Company of the Courtesan, were all the more effective and authentic for the unusual position that placed their principal characters at the centre of important historical and dramatic events. Beauty & Blood is a little different in as far as the principal character of this book - if it can be said to have any single principal character - is none other than Pope Alexander VI himself. But then if you know that Alexander VI is otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia, you'll understand why this perspective is the important one to understand if you want to get to the heart of the critical historical events that occur during this period, not to mention the notorious ones.

Alexander is however only nominally the principal character in Blood & Beauty, and only in as far as it's important to know about his motivations, his personal inclinations and ambitions, his Spanish origins and his sentiments towards his family if we are to have any really understand the complex web of intrigue that ensues. The Borgia Pope arranges strategic marriages, appointments and alliances for his brood - legitimate and illegitimate - bending the rules where necessary (he is the Pope after all) and the politically motivated manoeuvres, divorces, murders and selective use of poisons he employs to smooth the path towards consolidating the high position of power that he has managed to attain. In such dealings, Sarah Dunant is meticulous and observant, showing that one shouldn't underestimate the power of the Church, the obedience it inspires and the legitimacy it lends rulers who are on its side.

As her previous two historical novels indicate however, Dunant is also exceptionally good at creating real and compelling human characters out of historical figures and realises that some of the greatest wars are won not on the battlefield but in the bedroom. In this respect, it's the activities, the marriages and the personalities of Cesare and Lucrezia (and to a lesser extent Juan and Jofré) that it's important to also get a handle on, separating the facts from the gossip - and it's here, particularly in the insightful, human portrayal of Lucrezia that the author really makes Blood & Beauty come to life. Just as importantly in such a work of despicable self-interested male characters it gives the reader at least one sympathetic female character to relate to and, since the novel is to be continued in Dunant's follow-up, it give us all the more reason to come back.

Blood and Beauty however is still heavily weighed down by the intricate web of history that has to be unravelled. Parts can't really be skipped or glossed over without the whole thing falling apart, so there's a lot to cover. The author is only able to make it work this time by dealing directly with the principal historical figures and there's no doubt that she does so successfully, making this period of constant upheaval extremely interesting and readable. The brief references to the Florentine firebrand Savonarola and the Venetian courtesan Fiametta here however only serve to reminds us that Blood & Beauty lacks the same kind of fictional elements that gave The Birth Of Venus and In The Company Of The Courtesan a much more effective dramatic drive. This considered and realistic account of the Borgias alone however should be more than colourful enough, and there's likely to be considerable interest in where Dunant takes Lucrezia from here.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars cracking start..., 7 July 2013
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This review is from: Blood & Beauty (Kindle Edition)
But lost momentum, somehow. Impossible to write a book featuring the Borgias which was true to historical fact with a rounded ending, but that made the choice of subject a bit baffling. Interesting, avoids too much of the sensational but not....satisfying somehow.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Beauty, 26 Jun 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 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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Blood & Beauty
Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant (Hardcover - 2 May 2013)
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