This past weekend, I finished reading Sara Poole’s Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance. Before this, the only reference I can remember hearing about the Borgias was from the Assassin’s Creed II video game, which my husband enjoys.
Here’s the book description:
“In the simmering hot summer of 1492, a monstrous evil is stirring within the Eternal City of Rome. The brutal murder of an alchemist sets off a desperate race to uncover the plot that threatens to extinguish the light of the Renaissance and plunge Europe back into medieval darkness.
Determined to avenge the killing of her father, Francesca Giordano defies all convention to claim for herself the position of poisoner serving Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, head of the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy. She becomes the confidante of Lucrezia Borgia and the lover of Cesare Borgia. At the same time, she is drawn to the young renegade monk who yearns to save her life and her soul.
Navigating a web of treachery and deceit, Francesca pursues her father’s killer from the depths of Rome’s Jewish ghetto to the heights of the Vatican itself. In so doing, she sets the stage for the ultimate confrontation with ancient forces that will seek to use her darkest desires to achieve their own catastrophic ends.”
The book starts out interestingly, as it begins (small spoiler) with Francesca poisoning the man who took over as Borgia’s poisoner (an actual position within many families in Rome? I could definitely believe it) after her father, who originally held the position, was murdered in the streets. The poisoner had many duties for the family, most of which included merely protecting the family from being poisoned.
I enjoyed reading this book. Poole weaved real history in with the fiction of Francesca and her life. It was an interesting point of view, as the main character was a female in a man’s world. I think she got away with a bit more than she would have in real life, but hey, this is fiction. If anything, it showed Borgia as being as ruthless and calculating as the author certainly wanted him portrayed, that he would allow a woman to work for him. Whatever might help him in his quest to be Pope, he would utilize.
It was interesting to read a book from this time period, as a lot of the historical fiction I’ve seen out there has been Elizabethan in era and nature. Though Francesca was a bit too obsessed for my taste with her immortal soul and the supposed darkness inside of her, it fit the time period, where the church (and by church I mean the Catholic Church) ruled everything.
I liked how the main character alluded to things in the future (since she was telling the story). Some might not like the way she does it, but I appreciated it. It was as if she was really telling the story and expected that you would know the details of what happens in the future. I had to do a bit of research afterward to understand everything she was alluding to, and I think I have a bit more to do before I have a decent understanding of the time period and general history of the place.
All in all, though, a good historical fiction. I would say it’s aimed at a more young adult audience than adult, but I would want my children to be at least fifteen before they read this. There are two others in the series – The Borgia Betrayal and The Borgia Mistress – that I’m going to have to look into getting.