In 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella expel the Jews from Spain, six year old Esther Sarfati finds herself travelling to Rome to join her father, a successful banker who has helped his fellow Spaniard, Rodrigo Borgia, finance his bid for the Papacy.
Sarah was born and brought up in Yorkshire but now lives in Suffolk with her husband and two grown-up sons, not to mention the two golden retrievers, three chickens and an elderly, obese cat. She works for Creative Arts East, an arts development agency in Norfolk, managing projects to promote reading and creative writing. She also teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia, where she completed a creative writing MA in 2002. She has published fiction and non-fiction in journals as various as MsLexia and British Industry. She was short-listed for the Curtis Brown scholarship at UEA in 2001/02 and has had success in a number of short story competitions, most recently as winner of the Café Writers Short Fiction Competition 2005. Sarah has a weakness for lost causes and spends much of her leisure time watching England play cricket. Apart from being successful as a novelist, her biggest ambition is to spend a year travelling the world with the Barmy Army.
Wonderful historical novel about Borgias... Many would say, oh, enough of them! But this is really very well written historical fiction for all fans of such books... Don't miss it! :) One of those you read in one go :)
If I had to use only one word to describe this book, that word would be 'laborious'. That word doesn't refer to the effort which went into writing this tome, which I'm sure was laborious on Sarah Bower's part. No, laborious refers to the effort which I went through in order to slog through the book. Reading it was like pedaling a bicycle in low gear on a flat road: you work and work and work, spinning your feet furiously, only to find you've moved five feet. I would read and read and read and five pages later the story would've barely progressed.
The story at the heart of this novel is in itself very thin. Basically it revolves around the main character, Esther/Donata/Violante, as she slowly (excruciatingly slowly) grows wiser about the world around her, namely the goings-on in the court of Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI. The one thing for which I can give credit to Bower is that the story is told from the point of view of a converso, a Jew who has converted to Christianity as a result of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Esther, now known as Donata, comes to Lucrezia's household as a lady-in-waiting and immediately becomes entranced by Lucrezia's brother, Cesare. And this is where the story takes a downward turn. Though Esther/Donata (who by this time has acquired the 'La Violante' nickname from Cesare) has a minimal amount of contact with Cesare, is kissed by him once and immediately forgotten, we are treated to raptures from her as she waxes on (and on and on ad nauseam) about "her dark lover" Cesare. From there, the story becomes tedious and, frankly, rather dreadful as we watch Esther ruin her life with her delusions of her love for Cesare and his reciprocating feelings (or so she feverishly imagines). Even after he finally has sex with her, leaving her scarred with a venereal disease and, not incidentally, knocked up, pretty much treating her like a common whore, she continues to rhapsodize over his charms, his kindness and gentleness, and how life will become as sweet as ambrosia once Cesare returns to her, even though the man has repeatedly told her that he won't ever, ever be with her in the way she desires. EVER. Throughout most of the book, I repeatedly had to fight back my gag reflex.
None of the characters were remotely likable or even that well-drawn. Each one is a paper doll cut-out, able to be summed up in very broad and cliched terms. Cesare's a malicious brute who still manages to make Esther fall at his feet even as he treats her with casual cruelty; Lucrezia's a temperamental, slightly bipolar, manipulative shrew who comes off like a Renaissance Jabba the Hutt; Esther's best friend and fellow lady's maid, Angela, is a cold, calculating, shallow whore who spreads her legs for the most handsome man, but then abandons him at the slightest sign of trouble. And of course Esther herself is a delusional twit, with a bovine intelligence and similar sense of self-preservation; she has no depth or spirit, no opinion, no real purpose or drive throughout the novel other than to be with her "lover," Cesare. The only character who seemed truly fleshed-out and likable, a Jewish goldsmith named Gideon, came three-quarters of the way through the novel, and by that time I was so fed up with the book that I was past caring enough to truly appreciate Gideon. (I had begun to skim through the book around the halfway point; I just wanted to get it read and done with.)
As far as the sins of the Borgias, yes, there are a few, but they're certainly not the main focus of the novel. (There are a couple of titillating lesbian scenes between Esther and Angela as they assuage their lusts with each other when no men are handy; those scenes served no other purpose than to shock and awe and make sure we knew how "sinful" the Borgias were and how easily their decadence managed to corrupt those around them. And, of course, Bower has chosen to use the biggest Borgia sin of all, ) Instead, the sins and the Borgias themselves are merely set pieces for Esther to interact with as she builds up her fantasy world. This is the filler, this is the page upon page of minutiae I had to wade through as I followed Esther's tale, numerous details laying out the day-to-day life of the Borgias, their adjuncts, their friends and enemies. To be sure, richly described and reasonably well-crafted filler, yet filler nonetheless: The court traveled here and did this day upon day, with this dress and those shoes; the court then traveled here and did this day upon day, now wearing that dress and these shoes. It's obvious Bower researched and researched exhaustively, even if she did flub a couple of things. (She mentions the iron maiden, a device for which the earliest mention only dates back to circa 1793; the Iron Maiden as we're aware of it was more the product of a fevered Victorian imagination than that of a Spanish inquisitor.) However, it seems as though she felt like she had to cram as much of her findings as possible into the story, making the book feel overstuffed and bloated.
I have to say, I'm very glad I won this book in a contest. If I'd paid good money for it, I'd be massively pissed off. There are a couple of readers' quotes on the back cover, one of which reads "a richly satisfying historical novel. It deserves prizes." Yeah, a big fat booby prize. I'm not faulting the author's writing skills; bloated as it is, the richly-drawn scenes show a mastery of the English language. Bower writes well, however her characters are massively unsympathetic and her storytelling meandering. Quite honestly, had I been able to relate more to the characters, especially in regards to Esther, had she been more three-dimensional, with more spirit and intelligence, I wouldn't have minded expending the effort I did in order to get through the book. As it is, I feel disappointed and vaguely angry.
This story follows a young Jewish conversa who becomes a trusted handmaiden of Lucrezia Borgia. There's a lot of fun stuff here, though it's not quite as trashy as the cover might seem to indicate. However, although it's an enjoyable read, I also found it a frustrating one at times. We're talking about a time period and cast of characters dominated by political intrigue, and the POV character is not a main player in any of that. On the contrary, she's a naive young woman who spends the majority of the book blindly and stupidly in love with Cesare Borgia, and there're no spoilers involved in saying it is obvious all along that he does not love her in return. The whole affair is really fairly horrible - which is not to say it's unbelievable; sadly, it really is - but it can be frustrating, as I said, to follow the travails of a dumbass for nearly 600 pages. It also creates an awkward situation for the author, because one gets to the end of the story and since the POV character was an ignoramus, you don't know What Was Really Going On All That Time. So the author ties things up with an extended narrative confessional by Lucrezia, which stretched my suspension of disbelief.
I do think the fact that I'm currently following the TV show The Borgias enhanced my enjoyment of the story; although it does give away some historical spoilers! I'm all into the time period right now; so I'm also planning on re-reading the truly excellent "Duchess of Milan" and I've ordered Puzo's "The Family" on an internet recommendation.
I had a feeling when I saw this book was re-released with a new sexy cover and new title that it might be a trap. Boy, was I right. Can I review a book that I skipped part of? Everyone writes about the author's great writing style, well to me it just didn't flow. You have this "relationship" if you call it with Cesare and Violante that seemed very out of place for me. It started off interesting but ****small spoiler alert**** Cesare took her to this festival and he was seducing her, but then he made her look at the entertainment and she realized that Jews, her own people were being killed as the entertainment. One being her own brother. She runs away and you never hear about her brother again. Did he survive? This is where the story starts to lose me. Why didn't she even ask? Wouldn't that be important? All we find out is that Cesare has a sick sense of humor, but Violante still wants and craves him. After that she moves on as a Lady in Waiting with Lucrezia when she marries Alfonso. Then it was pages and pages of boring court life and Violante dreaming about Cesare. I know Lucrezia's life was more interesting than just going to church and gossiping. After I got halfway through, I skimmed through it and then read the last few chapters. This book just never grabbed or made me interested.
Just want to note first of all, for the benefit of fellow readers, that this book has also been published under the title "The Book of Love".
I’m in quite a jam about how to review this book, because there were certain elements that I really liked a lot, but there were other elements that didn’t make much sense to me at all. A friend described the writing in this book as “well crafted” and that’s something I would agree with wholeheartedly. It was obvious that the author is fluent, in terms of language, and is skilled at constructing her creative writing. Unlike some publications I’ve had the misfortune to read, the writing in this flowed, it didn’t suffer from being poorly constructed or a shambolic mess linguistically: this was fluid, skilled, almost deft. That’s always a positive thing in any novel. Even better, the author wasn’t afraid to show her skill as a writer; again, too often I’ve read novels which felt like they were oversimplified both linguistically and in the plot. There’s none of that here. As a result, whilst I was reading this book I felt genuinely appreciative of Sarah Bower’s writing skill. The dialogue just fit the characters seamlessly, the descriptions sucked me in – honestly I haven’t got a single bad word to say about this aspect of Sins of the House of Borgia.
I didn’t mind the length of the book – actually I relished it. This 533 page novel was a chance to sink my teeth into something meatier, with enough page space to go more in depth and detailed. I didn’t mind reading about all the little details of everyday life, as I was really looking to be wholly immersed in a period for a good long time. However, something about the pacing was slightly off. Violante’s confrontation with Cesare in Rome, around page 375, feels like the primary climax of the story, and the secondary climax is undoubtedly Lucrezia’s revelation which occurs around page 500 through to the end. But in between this Violante goes back to the everyday chores of a lady in waiting to Lucrezia, chugging along through the bubbling little subplot with Gideon, and it’s like the plot moved far too quickly from the big confrontation and back to ordinary status quo again. And then the status quo situation goes on for a bit too long before the second climax wraps up the story.
I can’t comment too much on the historical accuracy, as the Borgias in Renaissance Italy is a new period of interest for me. I only spotted one historical blooper – the reference to an iron maiden - pure invention, the iron maiden never actually existed in the Medieval world. Sarah Bower discloses a few of the deviations she made from the fact in her author’s note at the back, but they are so small and since Bower states outright that she makes no claim to historical accuracy it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
I liked most of the characters, I have to say. I liked the fact that many of them were so ambiguous and grey – again, a recent bugbear of mine in those simplistic novels has been that all the characters in such novels are either saints or sinners with very little in between. Even Cesare, who is essentially responsible for a couple of really despicable acts - it's not as simple as simply labelling him and downright evil. Most of what he does is ruthlessly efficient, and self-interested, but those same actions are all for the benefit of his family and himself, keeping himself in power, making sure his family will be secure from their enemies - and some of the aforementioned despicable acts it's kind of debatable how far his responsibility goes. I like that. People are rarely either wholly good or bad, and I appreciate novels that are true to life and reflect this.
I think my biggest problem with Sins of the House of Borgia was the lead character, Violante. Sometimes I found her frustrating and annoying, and other times she just plain didn’t make sense. She thinks herself in love with Cesare after only two or three meetings, and though he makes it as clear as he can that his passing fancy for her will never be anything of real substance or meaning, Violante’s always thinking about him when she goes off to Ferrara with Lucrezia, hoping and dreaming that something will happen, he’s always in the back of her mind; sometimes she’ll get on with things for a day or two but then she’ll wind up thinking wistfully of Cesare again. I tried to be forgiving about this, after all Violante’s supposed to be all of 15 or 16 years old, and we’ve all been there as teenagers, emotions running high and mistaking one thing for another and giving certain hopes and dreams more weight and importance than they deserve. But, I just found it irritating. Also some of Violante’s actions literally did not make sense to me.
Also, I never truly understood why Violante had been brought into Lucrezia’s household, and that question is basically the key premise of the entire story.
However, the ending raised an important question for me. The ending reveals that there’s been a whole other story going on all the time that we haven’t known about and
In conclusion, what did I think of this book? I’ve got to admit I enjoyed it at least in some aspects. The writing was excellent, for the most part the characters were subtle, and I really enjoyed being immersed in the world of the Borgias. The problem was that whilst I didn’t actively dislike Violante, she was frustrating and annoying, a few elements of the story didn’t make sense or weren’t explained properly, and in the end I can’t understand why this was Violante’s story when it so obviously should have been Cesare and Lucrezia’s story. If you pick up Sins of the House of Borgia you won't find the Borgias' story here, they are merely the richly detailed background to Violante's story. Sarah Bower is a good writer, I just think she needs to work on becoming a good story-teller.
Another impulse buy via the grocery store book aisle. Sometimes they work & sometimes they don't.
I don't think this is a terrible book, per se. But it's not my style. While I enjoy the occasional verbose historical literary fic, this one is just too herky-jerky. There's nothing wrong with the writing from a grammatical standpoint, but I can't get invested in anything on the page. The dialogue is too opaque, the scene gaps skip over too much time, & the characters are too bland -- it's that uber-artsy, flag-waving Booker nominee style, which is precisely the sort of historical fic that leaves me cold. Another problem is the onslaught of Italian names; I hesitate to say it's solely to showcase the author's research (which must have been considerable), but for someone who doesn't know much about Borgias, Italian history, or the aristocracy thereof, it's intimidating & a slog.
Undoubtedly this book will fit someone's taste -- probably the same crowd who likes Hilary Mantel or Sarah Dunant's Borgia novels. But for me? Nope. Into the swap box it goes.
I am always glad for the chance to read a new historical novel about the infamous Borgia clan. For a family that is reviled by history for their poisons,excesses,immorality and greed, there seems to be a dearth of books written about them. Books about the Borgias are certainly nowhere near as popular as the Tudors for instance.
"...I was so young then and confused lust with love as the young do ...."
"Sins Of The House of Borgia" follows the life of young Jewish woman, Esther Safarti. Her story begins in 1492. Young Esther and her Mother escape Toledo and the early years of the Spanish Inquisition by traveling to Rome to join her father (who, for some reason had all but abandoned Esther and her mother in Spain). When they reach the shores of Italy, Esther's mother dies on the beach. that they land on. The tale really begins on the beach that day. As a very fair skinned Jewess, Esther's fathers believes that she can 'pass' as a Christian. In his absence, her father has become an important banker in Rome and works for the rising star of the Catholic Church - Rodrigo Borgia. Rodrigo becomes the Pope Alexander VI and Esther's father arranges for her to become a lady-in-waiting to Rodrigo's illegitimate daughter, Lucrezia - the Duchess of Ferrara. - who will soon be married to her third husband - at twenty-one years of age. Esther is made to believe that this is what her mother would have wanted her to do. In this position Ether will be better able to attract a husband of good standing. The caveat will be that Esther is forced to convert to Christianity and assume the role of a 'converso'.
As a lady-in-waiting Esther must become another person. Her name is changed - first at Lucrezia's insistence to Donata. Soon afterward, Lucrezia's sadistic brother, Cesare, dubs her Violante. Unable to resist his allure, the newly re-named Violante surrenders herself to the violent, immoral charms of Cesare and, ultimately bears him a son. Cesare is a power hungry man who cares little for Violante and abandons (his real love lies elsewhere) her and his family in search of lands to conquer and power to wield. Through the course of of the book (the years of her service to the Borgia family from 1492 to 1507) and at the time of Cesare's death, the truth to the 'secret' of the Borgia sin unfolds. Esther, Donata,Violante realizes that she has been nothing more than a puppet - that her entire life in their household has been one lie after another.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the Epilogue of this book. It's short but exceptional and continues the story of Esther's life after she leaves Italy. The Epilogue in itself could well become another story - and it would be a fascinating one at that. I think I won;t say more about this part of the book because it really is the heart of the character - and you should read it for yourself!
This is a well crafted book that gives the true flavor of this hedonistic family. The politics, rivalries, sadism, and excesses of the Italian Renaissance are well described and the plot lines moves very smoothly. There a multitude of well fleshed out characters and, for this reason, it's a good book to savor more slowly than same. Ms. Bower has a real talent and I will be looking out for her next work. Ms. Bower has previously written short stories and was the UK editor of Historical Novels Review before turning her talents to writing this book.
Titlul e inselator, Borgia nu este pe planul principal al povestii. O intalnim pe Esther/Violante/Donata, o tanara evreica , botezata catolica pentru a fi Doamna de onoare a Lucreziei Borgia, laturi de Angela Borgia, verisoara Lucreziei. Este povestita viata lui Esther, cu bune, cu rele alaturi de noua ei familie. Mi-a placut stilul naratiunii, desi ma asteptam la mai multe detalii din familia Borgia, dar nu regret ca am ales-o.
In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expel the Jews from Spain, and Esther Sarfati is forced to flee to Rome with her mother. Nine years later, she converts to Christianity and enters the household of Lucrezia Borgia as a lady-in-waiting. There, she gets to know the real woman behind the infamous duchess, and...
I can't tell you - that would ruin it.
According to the author biography, Ms. Bower holds an MA in Creative Writing, and it definitely shows. The writing is beautiful. It's the "everything else" I've got a problem with. Because the main character is a lady-in-waiting, the majority of the story consists of rather mundane household descriptions. Most of the real action seems to take place far away, and the reader is told about it from some secondary character (as are the main characters). For me personally, the main characters fell flat. If pressed, I probably couldn't differentiate one from another. Frankly, the only character who evoked a response from me was Angela, and the response was extreme annoyance.
I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately, I can't recommend it.
Note: This review is based on an ARC from the Goodreads Firstreads program.
Another reader has the right word to describe this book: labourious. It's been quite a while since I was this disappointed in a novel. I was expecting something entirely different, and I was disappointed in what I got. Our main character leads us through her life--and it's not that interesting an life story. You'd think being the lover of Cesare Borgia and his sister's lady in waiting would be interesting, but the story dragged and honestly, I wonder why I bothered finishing the book at all. I didn't enjoy this read very much. It took too much effort to get through, quite a labourious effort.
I reviewed this book initially for luxuryreading.com and am so glad I did!
“All my life I had been obedient to the men who exercised authority over me. Staying behind in Toledo at my father’s insistence, until it was too late to travel safely and I was forced to witness my mother’s lonely, unnecessary death on the beach at Nettuno. Renouncing my own faith and family in favour of these Borgias with their dangerous charm, their plausible lies and their inhumane religion. Even taking my vicious nickname because it was bestowed on me by a man. My name. My real name.”
Her real name is Esther Sarfati and she emerges as our competent and enigmatic narrator. She has the unique ability to be an active part of the drama and intrigue surrounding the heyday of the Borgias but to be obscure and unimportant enough in the analogues of history to also be our proverbial “fly on the wall”. The story is bookended with an older, wiser Esther recounting her story of the years leading up to and encompassing her role as a lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia Borgia: 1492-1507. It is within this small grouping of years that Esther lived boldly and lost everything and everyone she ever loved. In 1492 Esther and her mother are left behind in Toledo, Spain by her father and brothers while they travel to Rome, Italy to find their fortune and security working to assist an up and coming Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia to buy his way into the Vatican and in hopes of escaping the Jewish persecution building in Spain under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Esther is a fair haired young Jewess and her father claims she and her mother can pass as Christians until he can send for them safely. When he doesn’t do so and tensions get beyond control, Esther and her mother travel in the mass exodus of Jews from Spain in hopes of finding their men in Rome. After a journey wrought with illness Esther’s mother dies on a beach in Italy and our distraught heroine experiences deep loss for the first time in her young life. She finds her father in Rome, quite wealthy by Jewish standards of the time and hardly affected by the news of his wife’s death. His Cardinal Borgia is now Pope Alexander VI and her father has risen as a prominent banker for the Vatican. She continues in relative comfort – if not happiness and love – in her father’s home until he tells her she will be joining the household of one of the Pope’s illegitimate children, Lucrezia Borgia, who will be marrying for the third time at twenty-one. She is informed she must also convert to Christianity and have nothing more to do with her family or her previous life. He convinces Esther her mother would want her to do this to secure her future and ensure a prosperous marriage, but like so many other explanations given in this novel, this barely scratches the surface of the reasons.
In Lucrezia’s household she is meant to change everything about herself. She must attend to all the pomp and glitter of the Catholic ceremonies and of the court, she must serve her illustrious mistress according to her every whim and, more importantly than anything else, she must bend and restructure everything she has learned to be moral and just until the Esther she was no longer exists. She is even made to change her name according to the wishes of the Borgias, first to Donata by Lucrezia and then to Violante by Lucrezia’s cruel yet charming brother, Cesare. Violante (as she is called through the majority of the book) easily succumbs to the somehow pious yet vulgar ways of the court and soon becomes so enamored by Cesare that, regardless of the way he treats her, gives into his advances and ends up pregnant with his child. Since he is always on the move to build and expand his lands and his political influences, he hardly even acknowledges this child and leaves Violante not only bereft of the love she is sure he feels for her somewhere in his cold heart but with the French Pox that will fester within her for the remainder of her life.
While Cesare seems to little more than count Violante towards the top of his long line of mistresses he has strewn throughout the continent, Lucrezia begins to keep Violante close at hand and seems to befriend her and trust her with her own secrets beyond the station of a simple lady-in-waiting. Violante seems to hope that this means that Cesare, who is extremely close to his sister, has somehow expressed to Lucrezia Violante’s importance and she is quite content to continue and demoralize herself and her beliefs as Lucrezia’s chief keeper of secrets. This continues until we as reader believe that nothing is too low an act or a revelation to wake Violante up from her Borgia-loving stupor. When a horrid and incredibly sinful secret is revealed to Violante after Cesare’s death she finally realizes that she has never been as integral a part of the Borgias as she once thought and was used as a pawn by them as everyone else without the Borgia blood inevitably is. This is the final nail that causes Violante to leave everything behind and escape this treacherous environment before it is too late.
This novel is beautifully written and so effectively exemplifies the glamour of the Borgia court that you can sympathize with Esther’s complete admiration and lose of self within it. This novel is not meant to be rushed through and I am not able to even come close to describing all the people, intrigues and alliances in this review. This is my first venture into the realm of the Borgias but it will certainly not be my last. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and have read much about the corrupt Tudor court of the same time period, but the Tudors don’t seem to come close to the corruptness and secret world of the Borgias. The author does a wonderful job of combining the facts we know about the Borgias with the rumor and elaboration of those known to be around the Borgias during this time but for which the history books say very little. I would highly recommend this to anyone who adores historical fiction, as long as they do not mind some steam and salaciousness within their reading. I will be waiting with baited breath for what Ms. Bower has next to offer.
I am a serious lover of historical fiction & setting them in Ferrara is usually a bonus & increases the odds I'll love a book. Not here. It's well written & has a lot of detail but it has one glaring problem that cannot be overlooked or discounted. The narrator. First, she has three names going over the course of this story. We meet her as Esther, she converts to Catholicism & is then Donata, she then is nicknamed Violante by Cesare & so we go with that as well.
Now possibly this wouldn't bother me so much but sadly, this is about the most interesting thing about her. You'd think that for all this reinvention she'd be riveting but she isn't. And that takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the story because we rely on her to give color & patina to everything. Often times I was annoyed because it was clear that I had figured out what Esther/Donata/Violante had not (the big reveal at the end didn't astonish me). Not only was she not very self-aware, she had no clue what was going on around her. Even granting that the main character is young, over the course of 500+ pages, one does expect to see some character growth. I gave up on her around 75% in and just remained to find our how it all ended. I wouldn't have believed it possible, but she made the Borgias tedious.
And the "relationship" between Esther/Donata/Violante was a complete waste of time. That's because it wasn't much of a relationship. Cesare displayed no qualities that telegraphed "love" for her so who knows why this was an issue that garnered so much attention in the book (I could have lived with just Cesare & La Fiametta trysting). It was a lot of Esther/Donata/Violante pining & fantasizing, some interaction with Cesare, more pining & fantasizing, sparse hook-up, fantasizing & pining. Wash. Rinse. Repeat... while you strike yourself with your Kindle over & over again. She spent the great majority of the story in make-believe & hoping one day it would all come true. Even sickness & childbirth didn't wake her up. It made her seem a simpering twit & not sympathetic. Honestly, if all that had been left out, it may have been a tighter & better told story.
I will say that in spite of everything I've said, other characters did come across well (Angela, Donna Lucrezia, the brothers of the House of Este & Gideon especially) but it becomes an annoyance as you don't spend nearly enough time with them & of course can't get away from the narrator. In the end, this was just okay and I am left a bit disappointed. I had expected a perceptive & sharp telling by a lady in waiting but apparently Esther/Donata/Violante wasn't that person to begin with. She was as disconnected in court as she was with the family she left behind. I suppose there's something to consistency but I wanted more from her.
I decided to read this book because of the upcoming Showtime series, The Borgias. Unfortunately, I think titling this novel Sins of the House of Borgia was a grave error. The story focuses far less on the Borgia family itself in lieu of telling the story of Esther Sarfati, a Jewish girl who converts to Christianity when she becomes a lady-in-waiting for Lucrezia Borgia. The story has a waxing and waning quality to it, and by that I mean that there are interesting, exciting points in the novel followed by large expanses of a huge lull. The telling is rather uneven to say the least. Aside from the wildly fluctuating action of the plot, I was seriously perplexed by Esther Sarfati’s (otherwise known as Violante) inexplicable draw to Cesare Borgia. Her long term attraction to him lacked believability as he was cruel to her, used her, gave her the French Pox, never reciprocated her love, and eventually took her child away from her. Therefore, the entire premise of the story treads on thin ice. What bothers me the most is that historical record was thwarted in the telling of this tale as even the epilogue of the book reveals. When I read historical fiction, I like to know that the events and relationships in the story are accurate or at least based on scholarly speculation. This is not the case with Sins of the House of Borgia. I had to force myself to finish this book, and I advise others to avoid it altogether.
DNF! I just couldn't do it! I could not finish this book. I gave it a valiant effort and persevered until chapter 6 or about 100 pages but decided the torture was too great even for me. I usually keep reading and make myself finish a book even when I'm struggling. Like I said just could NOT do it this time.
Although the writing was not bad, actually it was for the most part done well. It was all of the fluff and droning on and on about trivial things that put the nail in the coffin. This book needed an editor who was not afraid to slash it to pieces. I think if it had been at least a hundred pages shorter I might have kept going. I was too tired of reading three full pages about ladies in waiting washing Lucrezia Borgia's hair or the main character wandering the halls of the palace searching for a kitchen to get an egg. Booooring! Perhaps the story would have picked up later. I guess I'll never know now and I'm not the least bit sorry! The other major problem was that there were way too many characters and all but two or three came without any explanation of who they were and how they fit into the overall story. Granted this was my first time trying to read anything about the Borgia's and maybe the author thought a reader should just know. Apparently I did not! I hope the next book I pick up will be better!!
Sins of the House of Borgia is a story of a young girl who gets embroiled in a game of politics that opens her eyes to the seedy side of religion and costs her more than she can afford to lose. Her mother's dead. Her father sends her to serve as lady-in-waiting to the Pope's illegitimate daughter. She is baptized, renamed, and nicknamed. All that she has ever known, from her prayers to her meals, have changed.
Then she meets her mistress' brother Cesare, and loses her heart. And in doing so she dooms herself.
There are no redeeming characters in Sins of the House of Borgia. Violante is silly and immature, playing in waters too deep for her by far. Lucrezia Borgia is spoiled by her position as her father's daughter, and spends her days trying to secure her position as her husband's wife--not that it stops her from dallying with others. Cesare is wickedly rakish and unrepentant about it. And all of them have their part to play in the scheming intrigues of the Church.
Fans of Philippa Gregory's work around the English monarchy will love Sarah Bower's portrayal of this Renaissance family.
„Ca o concluzie, Borgia. Păcatele familiei ar fi putut să fie o carte foarte interesantă, dacă s-ar fi evitat anumite aspecte pe care le-am precizat de-a lungul recenziei. Pentru că au existat anumite scene și momente care ar fi putut să fie scoase mai mult în evidență, mult mai exploatate, dacă povestea ar fi fost construită într-un alt mod. Deoarece în jurul familiei Borgia au existat comploturi, alianțe, secrete, prietenii și iubiri imprevizibile, toate acestea au fost oarecum sufocate de adăugările care au reușit doar să mă obosească și să mă scoată din poveste, multe dintre ele datorate unui personaj principal ce nu a putut să devină – pe parcursul cărții – plăcut, ajungând să fiu interesată foarte puțin de soarta acestuia. [...]”
I love this book. It was one of the first ones I picked up when I decided to read as many novels about the Borgias as I could find, and at this point, it's my favorite. At first I found the main character, converso Violante to be annoying with her constant mooning over Cesare; however, the rich setting was enough to keep my interested. Because while Violante is being deceived by Cesare and his sister, much larger political schemes are at play that she's barely aware of, schemes that could possibly change her life forever. While the plot can morph into molasses at points, if you're interested in the subject matter, it's definitely worth reading.
While the American title of this book is Sins of the House of Borgia, outside of Angela, Lucrezia, and the shadow of Cesare, much of the plot centers around the Este in-laws, particularly Ferrante and Guilo. At this point, this is the first book I've read about Lucrezia's third marriage that included them in any large capacity, especially considering their plot against their brother that this book covers extensively. However, it makes sense for them to be included. Guilo is in love with Angela, Violante's friend and occasional lover which brings him frequently to her attention, and Ferrante and Violante form a friendship on the basis that they are both outsiders trying to pass for something they are not. Sarah Bower even goes as far as to try to explain the circumstances that not only led to Guilio to rebellion, but why Ferrante joined him (when by all historical accounts he was incredibly lazy), possibly giving them the most life in the entire book.
The Borgias themselves are rather paper-thin. Cesare is never known enough by Violante to be known to the reader, Angela doesn't seem to do much expect cause trouble and to cause titillating lesbian scenes with Violante (why is it okay for random lesbian scenes but any random gay scenes in a similar novel would be a no-no in the industry?), and Lucrezia herself seems to flip-flop between scheming mastermind to frivolous lady without any real indication as to why. However, Violante did get some interesting character development, and while I didn't particularly care about the state of her relationship with Cesare, I did start to feel sorry for her for constantly getting duped by him and his sister. I did have a moment where she became my favorite character, when she started to hate Cesare because all he did for her was impregnate her and give her the pox, but then she fell back in love with him because he was sick and "needed" her, so I went back to appreciating the general awesomeness that was Ferrante in this particular rendition.
The big twist at the end was not really that surprising. After all, anyone who writes about the Borgias will eventually have to decide where they stand on the incest issue, especially when writing about Cesare and Lucrezia, whether or not it has any actual bearing on the rest of the book. That decision should be evident in the rest of the book whether outright stated or not, and in this Sarah Bower excels. Despite being slow to like the main character and it not really being about the Borgias despite what the title claims and the random lesbian scenes (because all girls at that time were secrelty lesbians!), this remains one of the best books that I have read about the time period. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the time period, or even someone who is interested in the Este family.
Set in the late C15th in Renaissance Italy, this tells the story of Esther, a converted Jew, in the service of Lucrezia Borgia. Historical novels tend, in my view, to fall into the political action novel or the lush romance, but Bower treads a careful line between the two. Drawn into the emotional and political machinations of the Borgias and D'Este families Esther (renamed Violante) is always the innocent, always somehow external, and always knowing and understanding less than we do.
Bower creates rounded characters who nod to their historical myths but yet take on a life of their own. To her credit, no-one is perfect or unflawed. It probably helps if you have at least a vague sense of the history of Renaissance Italy at this period, but that shouldn't put you off if you don't.
I'm not a great fan of the first person narrative which tends to involve all kinds of clumsy authorial manipulations (narrators having to explain how beautiful they are, often through the cliché of looking in a mirror; long narratives explaining how they know things they can't possibly witness for themselves) but Bower negotiates this better than a lot of authors. Esther/Violante at times is an irritating person through whom to see the world, but not outstandingly so.
However the central heart of the book, and where Bower does a superb job, is the recreation of Cesare Borgia. Brilliant, ruthless, enigmatic, the book really comes alive when he is present. And the fact that he is absent for so much of it places the reader in the same yearning relationship to him as Violante. But he never descends to being a romantic hero, and even his charm is somehow cold and deliberate. Many historical novelists would have softened Cesare and so destroyed the tension of the book but to Bower's credit she never does. The central `twist' of the book may depend on how much you know about the Borgias, but whether you know it, or simply intuit it from the narrative, this adds to the tension rather than dissipating it.
So overall this is a classy and superior historical that it intelligently written. Some of the political background gets (inevitably) a bit vague and undifferentiated, but that is compensated for by a supremely satisfying read.
******Full Disclosure**** This was an ARC copy, that was received through the GoodReads Advance program. I am grateful for the chance to have read this novel, which I might not have purchased otherwise. ------
So far I was mind-blown by Sarah Bower's literary style. I read some of the reviews before I started the novel, but nothing prepared me for such an amazing writing. This is not prose - it is poetry disguised as prose. Very powerful visual images and exquisite descriptions make this the best example of literary prose I read in very long time. A full 5-star rating for the execution. ------
I finally finished this book and I really liked it in spite of being so sad. The literary style is so complicated that sometimes reading it felt like a heavy meal of which you don't want to have too much, but to which you return for more later on.
It is a slow-moving book but I don't hold it against it as some other reviewers did. This book is supposed to be the memories of a real woman, and let's be serious, how exciting really is the real like? We just go day after day doing the same things and having the same dreams. That is how this book reads: like a young woman's recollection of broken dreams and unfulfilled desires. And maybe the reason I liked it so much and felt that it rang so true was because I am in similar state of mind myself.
About characters: I read reviews saying that Violante was childish. Well technically speaking she was 15-16 during the most important part of the novel. How mature most women are at 15? I do in fact feel that the characters are well penned, including the males who are only secondary ones.
Finally, I would say that this is most definitely a women's novel - I doubt a man would care much about it.
Lucrezia Borgia, in this fictional account of the Borgias, a very real family in the history of Italy, is the illegitimate daughter to Pope Alexander VI. Along with her father and brothers, Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Jofre Borgia, Lucrezia is the political pawn as they arrange marriages for her with rich and influential men. Violante, previously Esther Sarfati, a young jewish woman who is sent to the household of Donna Lucrezia by her father. Donna Lucrezia is to be married again into the household of Este, a very prominent family. Violante is baptized as a Catholic and is the lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia from 1492-1507. Violante is also a pawn in this family, as she finds herself hopelessly in love with Cesare but she is just another in a long line of mistress's. There have been many different descriptions of Lucrezia in history but this story portrays her in a more human light than the rumors that surround her as a cruel murderous woman. Violante is very innocent and finds that things are not what they seem to the outside world. She finds that she can trust no one. This is a very well researched story of the Borgia family, who are more corrupt than the Tudor court could ever have been. I did find myself a bit irritated with Violante on how she clung to her feelings for Cesare and put up with the treatment that she received from him and his very powerful family. This was the first book I read about the Borgias, other than what I read in the history books. A very interesting family. Historical fiction at its best depicting the most notorious family in history. I recommend it to the historical fiction fan.
Cartea merită citită de către toți cei care vor să afle câteva lucruri de început despre această familie care s-a remarcat în perioada renascentistă și care a reprezentat și încă mai reprezintă un subiect tabuu. Eu cu siguranță am să-mi îndrept atenția și spre alte cărți ce au în centrul atenției prestigioasa familie Borgia (poate ceva cu o acuratețe mai mare din punct de vedere istoric), însă nici romanul semnat Sarah Bower nu trebuie trecut cu vederea, fiind destul de ofertant pentru cei pasionați de ficțiune istorică, însă nu extrem de satisfăcător pentru cei care vor să aprofundeze subiectul.
Borgia. Păcatele familiei este un volum care introduce cititorul în fermecătoarea și otrăvitoarea familie, acolo unde inocența este distrusă de către ambițiile nemăsurate, iar jocurile politice se împletesc cu cele ale seducției, rezultând o putere distrugătoare și mistuitoare, cum numai la marile curți de demult putem întâlni.
Historical novels with actual historical figures can be a hit or miss, depending on how much fiction (or changes!) an author decides to add to the life of an historical figure. This novel is told from the POV of a servant of the infamous Lucrezia Borgia.
As far as a work of historical fiction goes in showing what life was like in a certain time period or location, the author does a pretty great job of showing what things were like, and how the mores of the times would in sometimes drastically different ways affect certain things that would have been seen as a much milder sin/offense today.
It would have been nice if the author had focused more on original characters instead of making up a bunch of fiction about the Borgia family to pad what is actually known about them.
Reading this was a test of endurance. Originally I checked this out thinking it would be a historical drama but a beach read of sorts. Specifically I borrowed it to read by the pool when I went on vacation in August. And I did! I got about 120 pages in from that first session, but because I was reading the Kindle version, it took me a while to realize it was nearly 600 pages long. Sometimes I’d go weeks without making much of a dent and I’d forget who the various Borgia characters were, which inevitably let to a wiki-walk about their various counterparts. This centers on one of my favorite eras of European history, so I was looking up every single reference I didn’t know.
Told in first person, our narrator Esther (later La Violante) recounts how she came to become a lady in waiting for Lucrezia Borgia and gets tangled up in court intrigue. Each chapter begins with an epigram, seemingly from letters but we don’t know from whom. Over the course of the story, we see her go from a starry-eyed young girl to a mature woman. The way Bower writes, this is seamless. She also managed to find a unique perspective through which to guide the narrative. Esther Sarfati becomes La Violante, who really was one of Lucrezia’s ladies, a Jewish convert in the post-inquisition landscape. Additionally, no one knows who the mother of Cesares son Girolamo was, so the decision to merge these figures was perfect.
Some of the characters were hard to distinguish, mainly Lucrezia’s husbands. I admit I got lost during some of the exposition-heavy descriptions of political intrigue and action but I blame myself because I often read this until I fell asleep.
If you’re looking for something on the scale of Game of Thrones but historical and juicy, this is your read.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.