Sarah Dunant has visited the turbulent beauty of the Italian Renaissance before, in rich historical novels like The Birth of Venus. With Blood & Beauty, she returns to this fascinating era, but this time she’s trained her acute storytelling eye on real historical figures: one of Europe’s most infamous families, the Borgias.

Turning the lives of people who actually inhabit the pages of history into a compelling, dazzling fictional narrative is a new challenge for Dunant, but she rises to it beautifully. Filled with rich detail and page-turning drama, Blood & Beauty is an ambitious and bravura new work from a powerful voice in historical fiction.

Beginning with the election of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI in 1492, Dunant charts 10 years of turbulent, romantic and often chaotic Borgia rule in Europe. As a Spanish clergyman surrounded by Italians, famous as much for his wealth and the love of his illegitimate children as for his statue in the church, Alexander knows he must be shrewd and smart if he is to bend Europe to his will. To satisfy his unceasing desire for power amid the ever-turbulent politics of a divided Italian peninsula, he turns to his two most famous children, the warrior Cesare and the charming Lucrezia, key to the future of his dynasty.

The most striking thing about Blood & Beauty is how unreservedly Dunant luxuriates in the pageantry and drama of the period. She labored to strip away some of the centuries’ worth of propaganda and rumors surrounding the Borgia family with this novel, and she succeeds in that, but she also never shies from draping the work in gorgeous prose. The bombast and the high stakes of this story come to vivid life with every word. It’s a refreshingly unrestrained treatment of the genre, and it makes the tale all the more engaging.

Perfect for readers who love danger, romance and lots of palace intrigue, Blood & Beauty is a triumph on an epic scale. Dunant takes us deep into this gorgeous but often deadly world, and we never want to leave. Lucky for us, the epilogue notes that she’s already planning another Borgia book.

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