Fire on Dark Water begins in 1702 England, when 10 year old Lola Blaise is spirited away from her gypsy family by people that would sell her to men wanting to “experience” a virgin. Yeah, the world Lola lives in is nasty, brutal, and unforgiving, especially where gypsies are concerned. Lola eventually falls in with a gang of thieves and is eventually caught and sent to Newgate, where she is banished to America for 7 years to be retrained for colonial labor. On the ship, she’s befriended by three doxies, Violet, Maude, and Dollie, who do their best to shelter her from the bullying and abuse by the other prisoners. They can’t save her from the captain, however, who turns Lola into his own personal form of entertainment. After a mutiny attempt by the prisoners goes wrong, and it’s discovered that Lola helped procure a weapon, the ringleaders are promptly tortured and thrown overboard, while Lola is forced to watch. Lola then helps take care of prisoners and shipman afflicted by various forms of nastiness. So, after what I personally think of as the “Ship Ride from Hell”, Lola is sold into service to a family in Carolina that lost their previous housekeeper to fever. Lola is to help with all manner of medical emergencies on the plantation, and is determined to make the best of this situation. Such begins Lola’s experiences in the service of the girl who would eventually become Anne Bonny and her father. A fateful marriage will lead her to the West Indies, life on the high seas, and eventually, Lola would become Blackbeard’s thirteenth wife.
Fire On Dark Water is not a mystery, nor is there an epic quest. It's about a gypsy girl, abandoned and adrift, making her way in a hostile, unforgiving world. Lola’s voice is sturdy and unapologetic, even when she describes some of the horrible things she must submit to in order to survive. I had to keep reminding myself during the first part of this book, that Lola was only ten because the things she has to endure will make your heart ache. These are things no person; man, woman, or child should ever have to go through and is a glimpse into the dark hearts of men, and women. It was use or be used, and Lola clawed for her place the best she knew how. Intelligent, cunning, and resourceful, Lola survives in a world that most of us wouldn’t last more than 10 minutes in. The author creates a world rich in treachery and desire, and Lola Blaise’s story is one you won’t want to miss. If you like pirates, strong, intelligent women, and historic adventure that doesn’t let up, you’ll love Fire On Dark Water. (less)
Rome is in transition, with Christiandom on one side and those that seek intellectual enlightenment on the other. Alliances are constantly being made and broken and the future of an entire nation is at stake. The Borgias are constantly seeking ways to advance their reach and power.
After the death of her father by nefarious means, Franscesca Giordano secures her place in the Borgia household by the only means she knows how. Ever pragmatic and logical, her job is to secure the safety of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his family. Francesca is an anomaly in 1492 Rome. She is a woman of means, having inherited a sizable sum from her father after his death, and as the new poisoner, earns a rather comfortable salary of her own. When she learns about a plot designed to remove all Jews from the city by any means necessary, she is called upon to take the most dangerous of jobs: assassinate the Pope.
Poison was a really nice break from the supernatural realm. Don’t get me wrong, that genre remains my favorite, but every now and then I really enjoy some good historical suspense. Francesca is a strong and stalwart girl, thrust into circumstances that would break a lesser person, man or woman. The Borgias are certainly an interesting lot, and if you enjoy intrigue, they’re the family to follow. They’re like the Gottis of the 15th century. Following Francesca is great fun, and quite the harrowing adventure, and the story covers all manner of controversy, such as the Christian’s treatment of the Jews, medical practices of the time, torture, and of course, all of the “court” intrigue that you can handle. I really enjoyed getting to know the 12 year old Lucretia Borgia, and Francesca’s dalliances with Papa Borgia’s handsome son Cesare and Rocco, a handsome glassmaker, added some romance to the story. Francesca will discover astonishing secrets of the Borgia’s as well as some revelatory secrets about her own father. Sara Poole’s narrative is sharp and engaging, and the story moves along at quite a rapid pace. Ms. Poole doesn’t bog you down with lots of info at once. She instead weaves it into the narration (told from Francesca’s first person POV), resulting in relatively seamless reading. Il Cardinal (Papa Borgia and Francesca’s employer), is a scary, powerful guy, but the Pope is just plain creepy, and more than a little insane. He bleeds young boys and drinks their blood, thinking this will prolong his life. Yeah, yuck. With his icky habits, strange (and gross) proclivities, and visions of genocide, the idea of assassination seems to be a smart idea all the way around. The problem is getting close enough to the Pope to do it, and that’s where Poison really takes off. Poison is a rich, captivating look into a world on the brink of great change and a mystery that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.(less)
The Borgia Betrayal takes place in 1493, the year after the events in Poison. Rodrigo Borgia is now Pope, and he keeps his poisoner, Francesca, very close, involving her in much more of his personal affairs than he used to. She’s still reeling from the events in Poison, knowing the mad priest Morozzi is still alive and well, and recognizes a darkness within herself that may put her soul in peril. However, she will do anything to prevent evil forces from claiming the lives of the ones she loves, and will do anything to avenge her father. When Francesca is attacked in her own home, and forced, once again, to kill, the stakes seem to get even higher!
I adored Poison, the first novel to chronicle Francesca’s adventures as Borgia’s poisoner, but The Borgia Betrayal is even better! Since the events of Poison, Francesca has become part of Lux, a very secret group seeking intellectual enlightenment in a time when the Inquisition was very active, and very real. When their secret meeting place is raided one day, and the group is forced to flee, Francesca suspects someone in Borgia’s inner circle, if not Borgia himself. Then there’s the matter of the mad priest Morozzi, still at large, but in whom Francesca sees the darkness that she hides within herself, but who she must find and kill, at any cost. Ms. Poole really amps up the intrigue in this one, and also the romantic tension. You’ll find yourself venturing into underground tunnels with Francesca and a group of smugglers that she enlists to help her in her cause, secret rooms, hidden lusts, and plots of revenge. Francesca gets steamy with Cesare, and is drawn to his darkness, but has real feelings for the glassmaker Rocco, and her heartache is palpable. We also get to spend more time with the now 13 year old Lucrezia, who agonizes over her impending nuptuals and confides to Francesca her innermost feelings. Their bond is very real, and I began to sympathize with Lucrezia as a girl on the cusp of womanhood who already has her fate decided for her. All this against a backdrop of possible war, and Francesca’s constant struggle to keep her Pope safe, as well as do his bidding. The title really says it all. Betrayal is the order of the day, and there are plenty of revelations and many twists and turns! I highly recommend this series to anyone that not only loves a good historical novel, but also fans of mystery, thrillers, and suspense! (less)