Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks
1492 was not a good time to be Jewish in Spain. Esther’s father and brothers left ahead of Esther and her mother in order to set up a life for them in Rome, but eventually King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella formally expelled all Jews from Spain, and Esther and her mother were force to flee to Rome as well. It was a hard journey, and Esther’s mother died along the way, leaving Esther’s voyage in the hands of friends and neighbors. If all of that weren’t bad enough, after Esther’s arrival, her father decides that she will convert to Christianity and become a lady in waiting to Lucrezia Borgia, in order to further ingratiate Esther’s father the moneylender to Pope Alexander VI, nee Rodrigo Borgia. For one or another, Esther becomes very close to Lucrezia – and in some ways even closer to Lecrezia’s infamous brother Cesare, who bestows upon Esther the nickname Violante.
It is a pretty common historical narrative that the Borgia’s brought back the decadence of ancient Rome and added a health dose of poison, that their bed and spouse hopping made the Henry VIII’s marital history look puritanical by comparison. Even so, some of Esther’s early experiences with the Borgias seem to be almost tawdry for tawdry’s sake. Perhaps this is an accurate description of his parties, but it seemed to me that a bit more could have been left to the imagination. Partly because of the graphic nature of some of the early Borgia scenes, Sins of the House of Borgia got off to a slow and rocky start for me. While it eventually engaged me and the pace picked up, I never stopped having an issues with Esther’s intense fascination with and lust for Cesare Borgia. At their very first meeting he embarrassed and degraded her, and never showed any particular preference for her, other than writing her letters seemingly designed to lead her on. Esther was generally a very smart young woman, I found it difficult to believe that she was so incredibly stupid about a man so famously inconstant and syphilitic.
I’m still very interested in books about the Borgias, particularly some set in the years before Rodrigo’s ascension or in the early years of his Papacy, instead of nearing the end of their power as Sins of the House of Borgia was. Someone please write or recommend me a book with a good scene about the battle between Cesare and Catherina Sforza! Sins of the House of Boriga may interest those who like historical fiction that adheres to the tropes of the romance genre better than I do.
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