I received a copy of this book for free from Hodder & Stoughton, in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
Oh, the BorgI received a copy of this book for free from Hodder & Stoughton, in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
Oh, the Borgias. Infamous throughout history for murder, debauchery, incest, bribery, nepotism, poison, adultery and so much more. From the moment Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, he was already scandalous – a pope with at least four children, possibly more.
My question is, how could you possibly not want to read a book about this family?
I’ve been fascinated by the Borgias, and the period of history within which they lived, for a while now. Their story is so familiar to me, but still I love to read about them – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I love it. The Vatican Princess in particular is, I have to say, one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read about the Borgias. Told from the point of view of Lucrezia, the Pope’s beloved daughter or his ‘farfallina’, the story begins when she is 12 years of age, about to be married off to Giovanni Sforza. Lucrezia’s life was a sad one – forced into a series of marriages from a young age, some unwanted, some happy, but all ended badly.
Gortner’s narrative worked beautifully. The book spans about eight or nine years, divided into sections of several years each, but it skips through chunks of time without missing anything important. There is a real sense of Lucrezia growing, perhaps too early, from a girl into a woman, and learning what her family is really like. She hardens herself, learns how to protect those she loves – without Gortner falling into the trap of portraying her as an evil seductress, poisoning every Borgia enemy, as some texts show her.
I don’t know whether it was due to my familiarity with the Borgia history, or because of Gortner’s writing, but the book was so accessible. There is quite a large cast of characters, some of whose names might seem very odd to someone who does not know this period of history, but at no point did I feel lost amongst them all. It would be interesting to know whether someone who does not know the history as I do felt so comfortable among the cast of characters. She is both strong and naive, retaining some of that childish innocence whilst still learning how to make her way through the politics of late 15th century Rome.
Overall, The Vatican Princess was a wonderful novel, some of the most engaging and beautifully written historical fiction that I have read in a while. The thing about the Borgias is so much of their history is uncertain – so many rumours contradict each other, there is a lot that is not set in stone – that actually, it is possible to be quite inventive when writing about them. Gortner uses this, but also sticks fairly faithfully to the ‘history’, making some changes where they allow the story to flow more easily – and explaining all of this at the end. Whether you’re already a fan of one of history’s most infamous families, or know nothing about this, I would highly recommend this title....more
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also took part in the official blog tour, hosted by TLCI received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also took part in the official blog tour, hosted by TLC Book Tours. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
I’m pretty picky about the blog tours I take part in nowadays, and will only sign up if I know I’m going to enjoy the book. So of course I knew I would enjoy The Sisters of Versailles – whilst I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do enjoy a bit of steamy historical fiction – but I didn’t realise just how much I would enjoy it. Told from the point of view of the Nesle sisters, this novel is unique in that whilst its main characters were historical figures, very little has been written about them in English. Four of the five Nesle sisters became mistresses to King Louis XV of France, and whilst this was of course a huge scandal at the time, it doesn’t seem to be something that has been recorded quite as much as you would think. In fact, I’m pretty sure more people would be nore familiar with Madame de Pompadour, another of Louis XV’s mistresses, than Louise, Marie-Anne, Hortense, Diane or Paulie Nesle.
From the very first chapter of the book, I got a really clear and vivid image of life at Versailles. It seemed so colourful and fast-paced, but there was also something darker hiding in the shadows, hinting at what was yet to come. The reader sees it all at first through the eyes of Louise, the eldest of the Nesle sisters and the first to go to Versailles. From the moment the sisters become of a suitable age for marriage, they are obsessed with the idea of it – so it is so sad that Louise’s marriage, to a man twenty years her senior, makes her feel so lonely. Her husband is an imbecile and a horrendous person; when her mother dies he complains of the ‘inconvenience’ of having to travel to Paris to help his grieving wife. Therefore it is completely understandable when she is persuaded by the ladies of the court to have an affair, after all everyone is doing it. But then Louise comes to the attention of the king, and everything changes.
Whilst each sister narrates at least one chapter each, their voices didn’t feel entirely distinctive. They had very clear cut personalities though: Diane the slob, Louise the naive one, Hortense the pious one, Marie-Anne a revolutionary in the making, and Pauline, determined to get whatever she wanted despite the consequences. Pauline’s letters, not so subtly hinting to Louise that she deserved a visit to Versailles, were kind of hilarious. At first I quite liked Pauline, but her later actions turned me against her. Watching her steal the man her sister loves, then reading Louise’s point of view of the whole experience was pretty heartbreaking. Marie-Anne was a surprise, going from seemingly innocent to a real schemer.
As time went on, I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Louise or whether I want to just shake her and shout ‘Get a grip!’. It was sad watching her pine after someone she couldn’t have, who was clearly not interested in her anymore, whilst sister after sister replaced her. I don’t know how Louis XV is represented in history (having studied his grandson Louis XVI in much more depth), but in this he felt so shallow. He wasn’t outright mean, but the way he treated people, especially women, as objects that he could just use and then toss aside when the next exciting thing came along, was abhorrent. He did it without people even realising they were being replaced until it was too late.
I’m so glad I got the chance to read and review The Sisters of Versailles. I have found the whole ancien regime period of French history very interesting ever since I studied it in school, and I’m always happy to read historical fiction set in that era. What I really loved here was learning about historical figures that aren’t widely written about, and the whole scandalous history of the Nesle sisters. How is the fact that Louis XV slept with four sisters not as widely known as his affairs with Madame de Pompadour? History does love a good scandal, after all....more
The Dark Days Club combines two things I love to read about:
- a fantastical spin on a real historical period - realAlso posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
The Dark Days Club combines two things I love to read about:
- a fantastical spin on a real historical period - real historical figures as minor characters
And it did it wonderfully! I absolutely loved the idea that behind this delicate society, where main concerns are the latest fashions, finding an appropriate husband before the spinsterly age of 23 and discussing who has been snubbed from the latest social event, there is a group of demon hunters. A group of demon hunters in Regency England, comprised of not just aristocratic gentleman who would be familiar with hunting and other such pursuits anyway, but society ladies, who swap their petticoats for trousers (scandalous!), and evenings filled with balls, champagne and dancing for hunting dark creatures. The book really exposes the ridiculousness of society at the time, where things seemed prim and proper on the outside, but often there was something darker hidden away.
I liked Helen as a character. She longs for the independence that her society will never grant her, and won’t settle for just being married off to the first available bachelor who will take her. Unfortunately, due to some family history, her name is not as desirable as it once was, and her uncle (and guardian) pretty much just wants to be rid of her. Helen is curious and intelligent, eager to learn and quick-witted. It wasn’t just Helen that was likeable, but also Darby, her maid. Their relationship in particular really stood out. Darby was more than just a maid, and the friendship between her and Helen felt so genuine. She could have easily been scared off by Helen’s abilities, but instead she was loyal and just as curious as Helen about what she could do.
I was a little dismayed by the pace of the book – it really was quite slow moving, and it is a good third of the way in before Helen even finds out what she is, let alone starts using her powers. I just wanted the demon hunting to commence asap! Sadly there just wasn’t enough action or demon slaying by the end for my taste, which is one of the reasons why this is a four star read rather than five stars. I’m hoping for a lot more in the second book to make up for it, but it also seems like Helen still has a lot to learn. One of my other issues was that it was quite predictable – none of the ‘shocking’ events were a surprise and it was easy to guess what was going to happen. Finally, at times there was quite a bit of info dumping, which can be quite frustrating.
However, I found The Dark Days Club to be a really fun novel, if slow to start. I absolutely loved the concept, and the contrast between the genteel society and the demon hunters. I’ll definitely be looking out for the second book in the series!...more