Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Borgia Betrayal

The Borgia Betrayal is the sequel to Poison. Although in a series the books don't have to be read in order and can be stand alone. I prefer to keep in order so as not to get confused, although I don't always do that. Once again we follow Francesca, Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander VI's poisoner. He has now been pope almost a year and has already had 3 major attempts on his life. Francesca is busy keeping him alive, and his children and mistress. She inspects all foods or drinks that come into the palace, as well as gifts because poisons can also be made on contact. In the first book, Francesca was after revenge for her father's death. Morozzi has been spotted and is once again somewhere in Rome. She uses the resources of her Jew friends to help find him, as well as some of her Lux friends. Lux is a secret group that meets together to learn and spread learning; which is against the Holy Mother Church's rules. They want their followers to be kept in the dark and not to question things.

As they try to find Morozzi, Francesca comes in contact with a leader in the underground tunnels that has many children as his followers, Alfonso the First. He is the king of smugglers, using children he were thief's or still are to help him. He agrees to try and help her find Morozzi, because he is probably using underground tunnels to make his way through the city unnoticed. During this time, Il Papa, Pope Borgia, is trying to work with their Spanish Majesties as well as trying to work with Naples and the Portuguese. Christopher Columbus had come back saying he had discovered a new world, and the Pope was busy deciding who got what. Many did not believe he had made it so far alive, but he brought back proof as well as a crew full of new diseases. Lucrezia, Francesca's friend and also Borgia's daughter, was betrothed to marry a Sforza. The Pope needed their support, they were a big part of the reason he even became Pope.

Times were busy as usual, and one night while returning to her apartments, Francesca heard her landlady being attacked. Portia was calling out in danger, and without any thought, Francesca went in there and killed the attacker with a knife she kept on her person. Part of her job was to dispatch those that were trying to kill the Pope; she did not like to admit it to anyone, but she liked the kill. Perhaps because she was a poisoner she had to think about death on a daily basis, but she didn't like the dark side that it brought to her. Many in the city who knew her feared her, and called her strega which means witch. For a woman to hold a position such as she, and to be known to kill, many feared her and wanted her dead. Francesca is a deeply complex character, because she wants to do what is right but is required to kill people sometimes. Usually they are bad people, but not always. She also desires a normal life being married with children, but then other times thrives on her wealth and independent and single status.

In the first book she had started an affair with Cesare, the Pope's eldest son. They still meet when possible, and he soon starts living with her when in Rome on duties. After the attempt on Portia's life, Francesca is more careful and believes she needs to find Morozzi soon. Word is soon arrived that Della Rovere, the Pope's rival, is preparing to enter France and start a war against him. Since Morozzi is around again, Francesca tells Rocco her glass maker friend to take his son Nando into hiding where he will be kept safe. An attempt had been made on is boy's life in the first book. While trying to keep him alive, as well as his family and herself, a murder happens in the streets. A girl is burned at a stake; she is one of Alfonso the First's girlfriends. Morozzi probably killed her to send a message to Francesca, that he could do anything anytime he wanted. Since the wedding is little than a month away, her time is running out once again.

The Pope wants her to find a way to kill della Rovere, his rival, while also trying to find Morozzi and killing him, not to mention her other duties. One day she sees Morozzi out in the open just smiling at her, then he disappears. They find out he is using a nearby church to get in and out of the tunnels. She sets up a trap for him, to flush him out and is waiting for him with her knife that also has poison on it. He comes with an ally, and Francesca is able to kill him but Morozzi gets away once again. The Pope is becoming frustrated with her, and demands she use help next time to kill him. She wants to kill him herself because he killed her father. Plus she worries that if he senses others nearby, she won't ever get the chance to kill him. Cesare and Juan, his brother, are fighting and they discover that Juan is possibly hiding Morozzi in his home. It has secret hidden rooms, and they try to find him.

Lux is not able to meet because of an attack on the group; for fear of discovery they keep in hiding because they know what they believe is heretical. Rocco is also part of the group, the glass maker. As the wedding approaches, Francesca visits Lucrezia often to help calm her nerves. She is taking a bath one day, and Francesca notices her box of soaps doesn't have her seal of approval on them. She decides to have a servant try one of them, and she ends up getting bad burns and marks all over her hands. They had been poisoned somehow, probably to mark Lucrezia with scars so people would say it was God who had deemed Borgia and his family cursed. There were people out there wishing to bring him down; they used obscene graffiti and rumors to spread lies that he was a terrible person. Although not entirely a Saint, he was not guilty of the things they said.

The guards are on great patrol around the city, because things in the city seem tense. Francesca devises a plan with her Jew friends, and soon it is under way. She takes a potion that makes her seem dead; cold, no heartbeat or breath. Although unsure it will work, she believes if Morozzi thinks she is dead, he will soon make his move and they can catch him. While the city, not all of it, mourns her death, Morozzi is on the move again. Alfonso and his gang burns down a church, believing the followers of Morozzi are in there. When Francesca comes to, those who believed her to be dead are very angry with her, but happy she is alive. Suddenly the clue comes into place for her as she studies the burnt down church, and she rushes to the church where the betrothal of Sforza and Lucrezia is taking place. She finds gunpowder up in the rafters, and moments away from burning and exploding the building. It would have killed the Borgia family and many nobles and churchmen also. Morozzi's hand was behind it, but once again nowhere to be found.

I like these books because they are compelling, fast moving and exciting. Francesca is a complex character and very interesting to unravel her layers. She believes herself to be dark and evil, but actually does a lot of good and risks her life several times in the process. She has many friends and contacts in her high position, and much wealth. I wonder if she'll eventually leave Borgia's service to settle down. You can tell Cesare loves her, the son of the Pope, but so does the glass maker Rocco. I'm sure there is another coming in the series and I'm excited to read it as well. There are some scenes of violence or torture, brief though, and some sexual scenes that you can just skip over easily enough.

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