“All my life I had been obedient to the men who exercised authority over me. Staying behind in Toledo at my father’s insistence, until it was too late to travel safely and I was forced to witness my mother’s lonely, unnecessary death on the beach at Nettuno. Renouncing my own faith and family in favour of these Borgias with their dangerous charm, their plausible lies and their inhumane religion. Even taking my vicious nickname because it was bestowed on me by a man. My name. My real name.” – Sins of the House of Borgia
Her real name is Esther Sarfati and she emerges as our competent and enigmatic narrator. She has the unique ability to be an active part of the intrigue surrounding the heyday of the Borgias but to be removed enough to also be our proverbial “fly on the wall”.
In 1492 Esther and her mother are left behind in Spain while her father travels to Rome to work for Cardinal Borgia in hopes of escaping the Jewish persecution building in Spain under King Ferdinand. Cardinal Borgia soon becomes Pope Alexander VI and her father rises as a prominent banker for the Vatican. One day he informs her that she will be joining the household of one of the Pope’s illegitimate children, Lucrezia Borgia, who will be marrying for the third time at twenty-one. She is also told she must convert to Christianity and have nothing more to do with her family or her previous life.
In Lucrezia’s household she must change everything about herself. She is even made to change her name to Violante by Lucrezia’s cruel yet charming brother, Cesare. Violante easily succumbs to the somehow pious yet vulgar ways of the court and becomes so enamored by Cesare she gives into his advances and ends up pregnant. He barely acknowledges their child and leaves Violante bereft of the love she is sure he feels for her.
While Cesare leaves Violante longing for him, Lucrezia begins to keep Violante close. When a horrid secret is revealed to Violante after Cesare’s death, she finally realizes that she was used as a pawn by them all, as everyone else without Borgia blood inevitably is. This finally pushes Violante to leave before it is too late.
Sins of the House of Borgia is beautifully written and so effectively exemplifies the glamour of the Borgia court that you can easily sympathize with Esther’s loss of self within it. This novel is not meant to be rushed through and I am not able to come close to describing all the people, intrigues and alliances in this review. The author does a wonderful job of combining the facts known about the Borgias with rumors and elaborations of those known to be around them but for which the history books say very little. I will be waiting to see what Ms. Bower has to offer next.
Check out Sarah Bower’s guest post and learn about the inspiration behind the book
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son and pet fish. 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 Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.