(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
As the cherished concubine of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, Giulia Farnese has Rome at her feet. But after narrowly escaping a sinister captor, she realizes that the danger she faces is far from over—and now, it threatens from within. The Holy City of Rome is still under Alexander’s thrall, but enemies of the Borgias are starting to circle. In need of trusted allies, Giulia turns to her sharp-tongued bodyguard, Leonello, and her fiery cook and confidante, Carmelina.
Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance’s most notorious family, Giulia, Leonello, and Carmelina must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power. But as the shadows of murder and corruption rise through the Vatican, they must learn who to trust when every face wears a mask . . .
I had my doubts about The Lion and the Rose but in the end it exceeded my expectations. Kate Quinn captures a time of change and uncertainty perfectly while having her beloved characters navigate through the vicious politics of Rome.
Kate Quinn’s characters are great. Giulia is finally a mature woman who starts to realize that maybe her beloved Pope isn’t all that he seems to be. His personality is changing and Giulia now has the maturity and insight to see and acknowledge some of his failings as a person. I don’t want to add in too many spoilers, but this new knowledge drastically changes their relationship as well as both parties involved. Leonello was the character that surprised me the most in this book, however. He’s finally trying to be just a little bit nicer to everyone but he still has that biting wit that makes me love him. Where his character goes toward the end of the book was a total shock but in hindsight I should have seen it coming. Carmelina also has quite the interesting character arc, but I was definitely more interested in Giulia’s and Leonello’s.
I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of this novel because my knowledge of the era is woefully inadequate, but Kate Quinn included a nice historical note talking about the very few things she did change. She seamlessly wove history and invention together to tell a great story while remaining true to the tiny details and broader strokes of the period. For example, all of the recipes mentioned in the book are authentic as well as the religious unrest in Florence. This is how historical fiction should be written.
By most standards the plot is not fast-paced but this is more of a character driven novel. There are still some very surprising plot twists, particularly the ones involving Leonello, so you’ll never be bored. And of course Kate Quinn’s writing style is excellent, as always. Historical fiction doesn’t get much better than this.
I give this book 5/5 stars.