It’s 1492 and young, beautiful Giulia Farnese is preparing for the adventure of her life. She is excited to become the wife of the handsome and rich Orsino Orsini and is ready to live the luxuriant life of one of her status. Imagine her surprise when she discovers her marriage was a sham and orchestrated solely so she could become the mistress to the powerful, charismatic Cardinal Borgia. Without consent, Giulia finds herself living in the home of Orisino’s mother, cousin to the wolfish Cardinal, and separated from her would-be husband while being actively courted and pursued by the man who would be Pope. Try as she might, it is only a matter of time before Giulia relents under the passion and constant attention from such a powerful, charming man. Giulia soon becomes Rodrigo Borgia’s willing concubine and, when he becomes Pope Alexander VI, the Venus of the Vatican.
Being the Pope’s mistress isn’t all opulent splendor, however, and Giulia discovers there are many who think of her as nothing more than a glorified whore while others seek to use her for her connection to her keeper, all while realizing her position is anything but certain. Finding unlikely confidantes in a select few servants, including a sharp tongued cook named Carmelina and a vindictive dwarf bodyguard named Leonello, both of which are hiding plenty of secrets themselves, Giulia and her entourage will have to learn the rules in this viper’s nest if they plan on surviving this twisted, sinful world of the Borgias.
Memorable characters, exciting, twisting plots and true to life situations are attributes of historical fiction that keep me coming back time and time again and The Serpent and the Pearl has all of this and more. It is impossible not to feel compassion for Giulia as she finds herself married to a man she cannot have and pursued by a powerful one she never expected to love. Somehow Giulia keeps her sense of humor and kindness through it all and I genuinely enjoyed seeing her grow into a woman and a mother navigating a glittery, dangerous world few could imagine.
The secondary story lines presented by both Carmelina and Leonello were even more entertaining, especially given the intelligent, snarky commentary and the slow unraveling secrets and mysteries they presented. Their perspectives helped flesh out the underbelly of this seemingly opulent time and place and gave a well-rounded viewpoint of not only the seedier side of Italy during this time but of the extended Borgia children, including sweet yet spoiled Lucrezia and the dark, exceedingly dangerous Cesare.
While The Serpent and the Pearl did not have as much conflict or danger as I imagined it would have, this is the first book in a series and leaves off on quite the uncertain cliff hanger for all three characters, leaving me to believe there is much more excitement to come. I, for one, am impatiently twiddling my thumbs in anticipation of what will befall this motley crew next.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Berkley Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.