My ‘Book Addiction’ series continues this month, where I share a book I devoured recently in hopes that you might enjoy it, too. April’s feature is The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner.
This beautifully written novel is told from the point of view of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of the infamous Pope Alexander (Rodrigo Borgia). Lucrezia is probably the most likable of the whole notorious Borgia family, and Gortner’s sensitive and nuanced portrayal of her will immediately spark a connection with the reader. The novel begins just as Rodrigo assumes the papal throne, when Lucrezia is twelve. As a narrator, she demonstrates a depth of maturity and intellect that makes it a pleasure to follow her story.
The Borgia family is well-known, even to casual historians, the name conjuring dark whispers of poison and incest. Even for readers who are well-acquainted with the historical facts, The Vatican Princess may still surprise. Gortner’s polished prose brings the characters vividly to life, giving them a fresh perspective and new dimensions. As the people must have been in real life, to be remembered so well several hundred years later, each of the Borgias is charismatic and fascinating. Even when Juan or Cesare or Rodrigo make your skin crawl with their ruthless, amoral actions, you can’t help the compulsion to keep reading, to see what they will say or do next, and how it will affect Lucrezia, who is often a pawn in harsh family politics.
Often, one of my criteria for a Book Addiction selection is the gripping readability of the book. If I couldn’t put it down, I’m excited to tell everyone about it. Full disclosure: I had to put The Vatican Princess down, briefly, but not for the usual reasons. Rather, it was so intense that I needed some time to compose myself. Seriously, that’s how close I felt to Lucrezia after reading most of the book. Also, as a self-avowed history nerd, I knew of a couple spoilers that I dreaded seeing come to fruition. I paused, girded my loins, as they say – in this case, it meant drinking a glass of wine – and read on. The historical events in question were viscerally executed and I was swept away by the emotional turmoil, which I think we can agree is the ideal reaction to a story, or Game of Thrones wouldn’t be so popular.
The Vatican Princess has all the scandal, betrayal, and heart-wrenching drama you would expect and want from a tale of the Borgias. Expect to stay up all night, feverishly turning pages.
From the book jacket:
For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, bestselling author C. W. Gortner effortlessly weaves history and drama in this captivating novel about one of the world’s most notorious families. Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias fascinated and terrorized fifteenth-century Renaissance Italy, and Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, was at the center of the dynasty’s ambitions. Slandered as a heartless seductress who lured men to their doom, was she in fact the villainess of legend, or was she trapped in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and survival?
With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, a new era has dawned in Rome. Benefitting from their father’s elevation are the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—each of whom assumes an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: Alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, the threat of a French invasion forces him to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.
Beautifully wrought, rich with fascinating historical detail, The Vatican Princess is the first novel to describe Lucrezia’s coming-of-age in her own voice. What results is a dramatic, vivid tale set in an era of savagery and unparalleled splendor, where enemies and allies can be one and the same, and where loyalty to family can ultimately be a curse.