The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Vivacious Sancha of Aragon arrives in Rome newly wed to a member of the notorious Borgia dynasty.  Surrounded by the city’s opulence and political corruption, she befriends her glamorous and deceitful sister-in-law, Lucrezia, whose jealousy is as legendary as her beauty.  Some say Lucrezia has poisoned her rivals, particularly those to whom her handsome brother, Cesare, has given his heart.  So when Sancha falls under Cesare’s irresistible spell, she must hide her secret or lose her life.  Caught in the Borgias’ sinister web, she summons her courage and uses her cunning to outwit them at their own game.  Vividly interweaving historical detail with fiction, The Borgia Bride is a richly compelling tale of conspiracy, sexual intrigue, loyalty, and drama.

There’s this image of ancient Rome as a debauched city throughout its whole thousand year history.  This perception of debauchery is somewhat true under emperors like Tiberius, Nero, Commodus and Caligula, but it is mostly an undeserved reputation.  In reading this book, I learned that the Papacy under the powerful Borgia family had more backstabbing than the Medici court, more sexual debauchery than Caligula’s court and almost as much incest as the Egyptian royal family of Ahmose.  The tagline “Incest, poison, betrayal.  Three wedding presents for…The Borgia Bride” is certainly justified.  Before I get into the details of why this tagline is deserved, let me first warn you that this is a book for people at least fifteen years old—and that would have to be a very mature fifteen.

Sancha of Aragon, the novel’s protagonist, is a wonderful narrator.  She’s beautiful, intelligent and ambitious, three of the most dangerous things a woman in her time could be.  Even though she was only eleven years old at the time, she had the daring to sneak into her grandfather King Ferrante’s rooms in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the infamous chamber of his enemies’ bodies.  This little story may seem like a product of Jeanne Kalogridis’ imagination, but I can assure you that it is true.  Like most women of her time, Sancha is incredibly mature for her age, which makes The Borgia Bride an enjoyable read, even though she is young when it starts out.  Readers will fall in love with her and cheer for her throughout the novel as she is put up against tremendous odds.

Forcibly married to a boy three years her junior, Sancha still perseveres, even when she knows that she has caught the eye of the debauched Pope.  Despite having virtually no friends—even Lucrezia is not a true friend—she manages to find pleasure in small doses, particularly in the arms of the handsome Cesare Borgia.  But all is not as it seems and everyone holds their secrets close to their hearts, for any weaknesses were fully taken advantage of in the time of the Borgias.  I won’t give away the ending, but I want to say that it is not the stereotypical one where the main character’s husband dies and she gets to marry whomever she wishes.  Still, The Borgia Bride is a thoroughly enjoyable book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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