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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars


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on 23 August 2013
`The Serpent of and the Pearl' is the captivating tale of Giulia Farnese, mistress of Pope Alexander VI. The novel begins in 1492 with the wedding of eighteen-year-old beauty Giulia Farnese to Orsino Orsini and finishes with the invasion of the French in 1494. Carmelina, a spirited cook with secrets, and Leonello, a bodyguard with wits as sharp as his knives join sliver-tongued Giulia as narrators and witnesses to the rise of the infamous Borgia clan. The story is a mixture of surprising seductions, gruesome murders accompanied by a large dose of dark humour and no small amount of cooking. This book will shock you, make you laugh and it most certainly will ruin your diet.

The feel of Renaissance Rome is really well recreated in the story, especially by Carmelina and her amazing senses of smell and taste. I liked the musings on the Renaissance's very ridged roles for woman (nun, wife or whore) between Giulia and Carmelina, whether they had to pick and stick with one forever, as Giulia's mother believed, or if they could be more flexible, as Carmelina claimed. The confrontation between Giulia and Vannozza dei Cattani was delicious to read, I couldn't put the book down during that scene. I was trying to work out Carmelina's past throughout the whole book, while Leonello's hunt for a serial killer with a nasty habit for staking young women had me on the edge of my seat and biting my nails. I loved that for all her famed beauty Giulia, for whom every occasion is an occasion to eat, struggled to maintain her figure. Any scene in the kitchen Carmelina completely dominated and kept me giggling (if feeling slightly sorry for the apprentices). I really felt for Giulia when neither her husband nor lover believed Laura was actually theirs, and I would personally like to find out what her parentage really is, maybe in the sequel?

The characters are all very different which makes each perspective very interesting to read, as they are well rounded with realistic flaws. Giulia, Leonello and Carmelina are each in their own way outsiders in Renaissance society. The relationship between Giulia and Rodrigo Borgia was handled sensitively and more importantly was plausible, especially as it is a love affair between a teenage beauty and a man forty years her senior. The author portrayed the romance very well. The Borgia family themselves where recreated realistically - from lecherous, pest-like Juan, to sweet little Lucrezia, to sexy, sinister Cesare. Giulia grew and evolved over the novel as she revaluated what was important to her in her life, whilst Leonello's ultimate loyalty to Giulia, despite all his cruel asides, in the end was very touching. I cannot wait to see what happens to Giulia, Carmelina and Leonella in the next book, especially as `The Serpent and The Pearl' ends on quite a dramatic cliffhanger!

I sometimes felt that the purpose of this book was to set up for the next book, and while I would much rather have a properly set up story and I enjoyed it very much, I did want a little bit more resolution by end and for the story to stretch that little bit further. However, this is a relatively minor thing and did not impact on my overall enjoyment of the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and cannot wait for the next in the series, The Lion and the Rose (Novel of the Borgias).
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on 19 May 2015
I was a bit cautious about this book before I started it - I have read too many so-called Historical novels that have been more akin to Mills and Boon. I need not have worried. The author uses three different viewpoints for the story, only one of which is from a real historical personage. The other two are fictional (I believe), but are thoroughly believable. The result is a cracking good novel set among some of the most dramatic events in Italian/Papal history, and told with a wry sense of humour which is really refreshing. There were a couple of places where the story slowed for me, but not many. My ideal score would be 4.5, and I will certainly be reading the sequal to this in the near future. If it is as good as this novel, I will be adding this author to my favourites.
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on 18 January 2016
What I know of this time and place has been gleaned mainly from the two made for television series' on The Borgias (while I enjoyed both series, I liked the Jeremy Irons version more). So, I was more than curious as to how Kate Quinn would approach the subject matter while trying not to impose any of my preconceived notions on the main characters. Well, as it turns out, I was unduly concerned as the author tells this story from the viewpoints of personages on the periphery of the Borgia clan. Well maybe not periphery for one of the characters, after all, Giulia Farnese occupied Pope Alexander's (the sixth of that name) bed as his mistress. Once again the author had me immersed in the sights and smells of the era, from the kitchens of Carmelina to the flashing knives of the dwarf bodyguard Leonello. A superbly crafted cast of characters, an attention grabbing storyline with plots and subplots enough to keep the reader guessing. The main story follows the fortune of La Bella, Giulia, from the beginning of Rodrigo Borgia's ascent to Pope to her dealings with the invading French. The placing of Carmelina and Leonello into the narrative provides a refreshing look at this fascinating time of political and religious upheaval. Another pleasant and page turning work from a very talented scribe. 5 stars
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on 7 June 2015
This is a marvellous read, telling the story of the Borgias through the eyes of three characters: Giulia Farnese, Carmelina the cook and the dwarf Leonello. Each character's narrative is compelling, and written in a style that their own. I was engrossed from the first page, and sorry to reach the end of the book; looking forward to reading the sequel. I would heartily recommend any of Kate Quinn's books - she has done a great job with this one!
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on 13 June 2014
Against a background of veiled depravity this story of the infamous Borgia family and the victims of their power struggles manages to display the characters strongly and sensitively. I couldn`t put it down.
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on 1 February 2014
I don't normally like novels where the protagonist changes every few chapters but this one had me hooked. All three characters who tell their stories are interesting, and it is refreshing to see Rome and the Borgia Pope's rule from three unusual viewpoints….that of his young mistress Giulia Farnese, that of a dwarf who gets mixed up with the family, and that of a Venetian cook with secrets of her own. As usual Kate Quinn's style draws you in to the action and her descriptive writing, evocation of the Rome of the period and her characterisation are superb. The only gripe I have is the ending… various parts of the action are unresolved, and it seems likely to me that Quinn is setting the story up to be continued in the next novel. If that is the case however, I can't wait for the next instalment to appear!
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on 25 May 2015
Great, great,great. Looking forward to the next book.!! More please. The Author brings everyone to life so easily. Thank you.
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on 20 May 2015
Amaaaaaaaaaazing. Kate Quinn is brilliant. You MUST read this book.
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on 15 November 2014
Loved this novel, great characters, impossible to put down
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on 18 March 2014
I nearly gave this one star but I so like KQ's work that my heart was not in it. Should have been one. Paid good money for this book and dropped it - well, deleted on Kindle - after chapter four. Just dull.

I loved the Roman books, oh, of course they were modern romps through Rome, but they were fresh and original and I liked the characters - even if they were a bit Creative Writing Class 101. I bought them all. If this is the future I won't buy again.

The Borgias should be rich in subject matter and as the story based on real people (in some cases) it should be an easy leap of imagination to get a page-turner. And here we have the wicked Cardinal and his sinful children and ways in the famous election. This isn't that exciting a book. This is an example of a writer who is churning out books and needs to take a step back.

The characters in each book are now becoming 'samey' - the rough edged bloke with problems, the working glass feisty maid, the rich girl and her problems and selfish ways. You can only do them so many times. And all in the first person, too.

I started by liking the three characters and the setting and raced through chapter one. And plodded through two. And in three did anything happen? This book lacks pace.

I'm sorry. Loved all the other books. Sure there will be fans who love this. Just not for Matron.
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