Of all of Europa's summer offerings, this was the book that attracted me the most, being about Lucrezia Borgia, one of the most (in)famous members of that very famous and powerful family. Her father, Rodrigo, served as Pope Alexander VI, at a time when the Pope headed an army and the Papacy was as much about the Earthly as the spiritual- maybe more so. Lucrezia herself was a pawn in her father's political maneuvering, married several times to various members of the European nobility as it suited either Rodrigo or her brother Cesare, also politically ambitious but not as inclined towards the Church. She was also the subject of another recent novel, Sarah Dunant's 2013 Blood and Beauty. To get started, I would definitely recommend The Pope's Daughter to Dunant's readers.
Like Blood and Beauty, The Pope's Daughter tasks itself with reinventing or redefining Lucrezia, whose reputation has tended to be that of a femme fatale. Fò tries to show us that she was an intelligent, strong woman who often resisted her family's manipulations and who truly loved and was loved in return.
Unlike Dunant's novel, Fò writes his in a tone that reads as history- in other words, you might forget that you're reading fiction.
All of the many chroniclers and historians of the Borgia agree that Rodrigo came to Rome at roughly the age of eighteen, eager to place himself under the protection of the Spanish pontiff. This is just the first sign of the shameless nepotism of this high prelate, who gladly footed the bill for all the expenses the young man faced. Rodrigo had as his personal instructor none other than Maestro Gaspare da Verona, a man of great learning and extraordinary skill as a teacher.He continues in this vein and even interleaves his own illustrations of the characters throughout the narrative, as if he were writing a textbook and not a novel. But it is fiction even though it's based on history. He is clearly smitten with Lucrezia. "No one," he writes, "would ever have suspected that there was such a fiery spirit in her," as she tries to raise troops to save her brother from one of his escapades. He gives his leading lady a tender side when it comes to personal relationships; she cares deeply for her father-in-law Ercole and develops a tight friendship with his daughter, a powerful woman in her own right. Fò portrays Lucrezia as a player with a heart, a woman who grows from a malleable girl to a shrewd and tough woman who can hit as hard as she kisses.
Overall I found the novel entertaining. The action flows along at a good clip and getting to know his Lucrezia is fun. Fò does less than Dunant to portray her sex life and he tries to dispel the incest rumors that have dogged her reputation. He portrays Cesare as almost uninterested in women and
really doesn't have much to say about her other brothers. He portrays Rodrigo as a kind of boor and his relationship with his daughter as affectionate but distant. I think the book would be great for historical fiction readers, maybe as something different for people who have read all those Tudor books and want a new scandalous family chronicle for the beach bag or book club. It's a solid read and very enjoyable.
This is my 15th book for the 2015 Europa Challenge.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.