Fiction blood and beauty

Published on May 2nd, 2013


Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

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Blurb: By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and in the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed. His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest – though increasingly unstable – weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player. (Virago)

Christobel Kent, The Guardian

By taking on the brutal and notorious Borgia dynasty, which even 50 years before Henry VIII’s birth had Italy by the scruff of the neck, Dunant might be seen to be putting her subject in the ring with Cromwell – but it should be said straight away that this is a different sort of book. Neither oblique nor experimental, it has a great deal more in common with Maurice Druon’s brilliantly gripping series from the 1950s, The Accursed Kings (about to be reissued with the tagline The Original Game of Thrones), than with Mantel, and is hugely enjoyable for it.

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Kathy Stevenson, The Daily Mail

At the centre of Sarah Dunant’s gripping novel is Lucrezia, the beautiful daughter whom history has portrayed as a scheming murderess. But Dunant throws a kinder light upon her, portraying a young woman used as a political pawn whilst trying to find her own happiness. Written with a wonderful irony, this is a must read for anyone interested in the period, and for those who simply enjoy intelligent historical fiction.

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Viv Groskop, The Times

In historical terms, this book is a re-evaluation of Lucrezia’s role in the family drama (it is arguably kinder towards her than many accounts) but it’s also an insightful, fresh take on the whole Borgia clan who, as Dunant writes, “have suffered from an excess of bad press”. When their exploits are so enjoyable and we are seeing the world so believably through their eyes, it’s hard not to love them just a bit. A comparison to Wolf Hall is not out of place here: the look and feel of the book are reminiscent of Mantel’s bestseller and it is similarly involving.

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Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times

There is an impressive amount of action packed into these 500 pages. Dunant’s grasp of the period seems impressive, and you would certainly not like to meet any of her characters down a dark Florentine alley. She brings 15th-century Italian cities vividly alive — the lawlessness and violence, the diseased and damaged bodies, the debauchery and corpses. However, perhaps because of the political complexity and the number of characters to juggle, there is sometimes a feeling that events are being seen from a distance, rather than from the inside, and the perspective can feel slightly removed at times (particularly when it comes to all the battles).

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Stephanie Merritt, The Observer

The Borgias appear as flawed but passionate personalities, painted in all their voluptuous glory against a background of shifting European allegiances. It is a mark of Dunant’s skill that these internecine feuds remain intelligible without overwhelming the intimate, human dramas that allow her characters to emerge from the damning gossip of history. Blood & Beauty is a high-class, colourful Renaissance soap opera, and one that will leave readers itching for the next instalment.

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Viv Groskop, The Times


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