Monday, December 18, 2017

Novels of the Borgias

Novels of the Borgias, Kate Quinn

I have continued reading Kate Quinn’s books recently, enjoying her ability to combine history with a great story and interesting characters.

There are two books in these novels of the Borgias – The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose.

Set in Rome in the final years of the 1400s, the story revolves around 3 main characters. Giulia Farnese is a prize bride with her gorgeous beauty and floor length hair. Excited to have her marriage arranged to a handsome young man, she is shocked to realised it’s a sham set up so that Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia can have her as his mistress. As he ascends the papacy as Alexander VI, she is installed openly by his side as his lover. Knowing that such a set up will create enemies, Leonello is hired as her cynical yet powerful bodyguard, his skills hidden because he is usually ignored or ridiculed because he is a dwarf. In the kitchens is talented cook Carmelina, a runaway from her family with a devastating secret to hide.

The Pope already has numerous children by other women, openly acknowledged as Borgias and all given positions of prominence and power in the church and throughout the Holy Roman Empire. None are checked and their ruthless and callous natures are readily apparent. Giulia and her entourage need to learn to survive and thrive in such a bed of vipers.

As a story it’s fascinating, the fact it is based in truth is somewhat terrifying. It goes to show, yet again, that truth is often much stranger than fiction. Again, Quinn explains at the end what she took liberties with and what appears to be true. There is also a murder mystery to solve along the way which I didn’t love, but did certainly add to the tension.

One of the thoughts that kept returning to my mind in this 500th year anniversary of events of the Reformation was, “no wonder!” Europe was ripe for reform; the church robbed the people, lied, stole and cheated to get what it wanted with excessive preference given to those of privilege. It's no surprise Luther had a lot to say.

Some of the quotes that prompted such thoughts:
“The Borgias, in the eyes of most of the world including themselves, had been put upon the earth by God to lead sumptuous lives on behalf of the masses. Their pomp was God’s will.”

From a very stressed master of ceremonies: “Before this wedding I should have quit. Because there is no proper way to host an official wedding of the Pope’s daughter, attended by the Pope’s sons and the Pope’s concubine! None! Because by rights, none of them should exist in the first place!”
“Pope Alexander VI. I wondered if anyone else besides myself has thought it significant that he chose not an apostle’s name or a virtuous name – no Paul or John, no Innocent or Pius – but the name of a conqueror.”
One of the delights of these books is Quinn’s clear research into the cooking of the times. One of her real characters, Bartolomeo Scappi, became one of the greatest cooks of the Renaissance and was Vatican chef to two popes. Many of his recipes are included in the book. The details of cooking, food preparation and how kitchens worked at that time are both intriguing and lovely.

More impressive offerings from a very gifted writer.

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