Sins of the House of Borgia is exactly as the title sounds – a juicy historical fiction novel that explores the naughty lives of the infamous Borgia family in sixteenth century Italy.
As a young Jewish girl in Spain, Esther is forced to flee the country with her mother after the Jewish people are expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (I felt like this was part two of the great historical fiction novel about this period of trial in Spain By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan). After her mother dies during the flight, Esther is raised by her father in Italy. Her father decides to use her as a pawn to advance his standing by arranging to have her baptized as a Christian and placed in the household of Lucrezia Borgia.
Lucrezia is the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Pope Alexander VI lived in a decadent Vatican court and had numerous illegitimate children including Lucrezia and her older brother Cesare. While serving as one of Lucrezia’s ladies in waiting, Esther falls in love with Cesare. Cesare is a ruthless man of mystery that women across Italy and Europe are swooning over. After Esther is unable to meet Cesare for a horse race, he renames her “Violante” or breaker of promises.
After Lucrezia’s third marriage to Duke Alfonso, Violante moves with Lucrezia to the Estense Territories and pines for Cesare to visit. Violante finds her fortunes tied to that of the Borgia family and is swept away in the rise and fall of their ever changing fates.
I really enjoyed Sins of the House of Borgia. It was very readable book and was hard for me to put down. Unlike some historical fiction novels where character development suffers after the story gets bogged down in the details, Sins of the House of Borgia had the details included in a great plot and riveting characters. This novel reminded me of the style of a Philippa Gregory historical fiction novel – the kind of novel that gives you the juicy side of history that you weren’t taught at school and that is immensely fun to read.
I really liked that Bower wrote the novel through the eyes of Esther/Violante. Although the sins of the Borgia family were titillating to read about, I really was intrigued with the struggle of being a Jewish convert in the early sixteenth century. Esther was effectively cut off from her family, traditions, and way of life. It was devestating to watch her growth and to see her fully realize what her conversion and connections with the Borgia had done to her birth family and her inability to connect with them as an adult.
Cesare was a great hero. A handsome leader of men, he was alluring and mysterious. I must admit that overall though, I really loved Gideon, the awkward gawky Jewish goldsmith that loves Violante. I can’t really say more though or I’ll ruin the plot!
SPOILER ALERT I just have to say this . . . this book confirms the fears of every adolescent girl after you’ve taken your sex education class when Violante gets the Pox and pregnant after only one intimate encounter with Cesare. It was kind of refreshing after reading so many romances were there are never any consequences of your actions, although I did feel really bad for Violante. SPOILER END
Overall, Sins of the House of Borgia is an enthralling, juicy historical fiction novel with great characters and plot. I look forward to reading more works by Sarah Bower – starting with her other novel, The Needle in the Blood.
Sins of the House of Borgia is my fifth item in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011.
To see a great guest post from author Sarah Bower and for a chance to win a copy of this novel, please check out this link.
Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!