The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan
Daughter of the rakish Duke of Milan and daughter-in-law (yes, you read that right) of the Pope, Catherina Sforza was not your average 15th century woman. She loved where she wished, schemed for what she wanted, and fought to keep what was hers. She even matched wits and swords with the Borgias. That being said, Caterina Sforza is a strong, admirable woman, but is also perhaps not the most sympathetic character in fiction, particularly when she is younger. Which is why Kalogridis was wise to narrate her story through her (entirely fictional) lady-in-waiting Dea. Dea was actually a particularly compelling character in her own right: consumed with a need to understand the mystery behind and take revenge for her husband’s murder.
I was totally sucked into “The Scarlet Contessa.” I am just starting to read more about the Italian Renaissance, and it is absolutely fascinating. From what I learned in history classes in high school, I thought it was all artists and patrons, some scientific discovery, and maybe a little backlash against scientific discovery from the church. But, oh! the power struggles! And not only amongst the Dukes, Princes, and other leaders of the various cities, but between the secular leaders and the church, and within the church itself! Absolutely fascinating.
This is the second book by Kalogridis I read and reviewed. “The Scarlet Contessa” confirmed what I thought after reading “The Devil’s Queen,” that Kalogridis is a very skilled author. Her particular talent is taking characters who should be unsympathetic due to their actions and making the reader care about what happens to them. Not every author can do that, and many books have left me cold because I could not care less about the protagonist. Kalogridis, though, examines the complex motivations behind some very unsympathetic actions. Not to mention she is a great storyteller, one who knows how to captivate her audience.
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