Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Serpent and the Pearl

This book FINALLY came to me at the library and I read it in less than five days.  This is Kate Quinn's first novel about the Borgia's, who live in Rome in the Holy City.  I had read about this family in other books, so I was interested in her novel.  The year is 1492 and this book focuses on three main characters:  Giulia Farnese, a beautiful girl with floor-length golden hair; Leonello, a dwarf and her bodyguard with revenge in mind; and Carmelina, a feisty cook with a mind full of secrets.  Giulia is wed to the handsome and young Orsino Orsini.  She is just 18 and excited to be wed to someone so young and also handsome, but discovers not long after that the wedding is just a sham.  Her mother in law Madonna Adriana had made a deal with Cardinal Borgia that Giulia would become his mistress.  Giulia fights this and is not happy to meet this Cardinal.  He is certainly older, a swarthy Spaniard already with a litter of bastards.  Rodrigo charms her with his charismatic and sensual personality, and also generous nature.  Giulia's family already seems to have written her off, and her husband has left her living alone with her mother in law, Joffre and the cooks and servants.

Boredom seems to give way, and Giulia gives in to the Cardinal. Giulia also has became fast friends with one of the Pope's children, Lucrezia.  They all live in the house together, passing the time.  Not long after, the Pope dies and Cardinal Borgia is enclosed to help select the next Pope.  Cardinal Borgia, her Cardinal, is elected as Pope.  He goes by the name Pope Alexander VI, after Alexander the Great. Giulia fears she will now be set aside, but unlike his predecessors who hid or housed their concubines separately to maintain a modicum of dignity, he brings Giulia to live with him.  She has a daughter  named Laura just 9 months after he becomes Pope, but is kept with the last name Orsini.  Soon people keep a distance from Giulia, calling her whore while noting her fashion and copying it.  Giulia is happy with her situation and the Pope dotes and lavishes jewels on her.  There comes a time when his passion for her seems to wane, and Giulia follows Lucrezia to Pesaro to help her set up her new household as wife to Giovanni Sforza.  Lucrezia is still young but has become very beautiful, and is the apple of her father's eye.  Giulia is like a second mother to her, and very caring. 

Giulia hears that the Pope's eye is wandering, but hoping to make distance and the heart grow fonder she stays away.  Soon word reaches her that her brother is dying, so she rushes home to his bedside, opposite of the Pope's wishes for her to return to Rome.  She has just missed his death, but stays for some time with her daughter.  She beings corresponding with her husband Orsini, and starts thinking about life with him and settling down.  Giulia's cook Carmelina has come along, she loves her tourtes and biscotti and feisty nature.  She also loves Leonello, her little dwarf bodyguard who was hired by Cesare Borgia to protect her.  The three are an unlikely pair, but very interesting to read about.  The peace isn't kept long, however, as the French are invading and close nearby.  Giulia finally decides to return to Rome and her Pope, but her party is waylaid and captured by a brigand of French soldiers.  Her imperious manner is all that keeps them safe, and Leonello's knife throwing skills.  Three of her soldiers and several of theirs die.  They are taken to Montefiascone where the French army is camped.  The book ends with Leonello dying from wounds inflicted on him after protecting his mistress, and Giulia preparing to meet with the General to discuss terms.

My Thoughts:  During this book, it switches between the viewpoints of Giulia; Leonello and how he came to seek revenge and escaped prison to become Giulia's bodyguard, and Carmelina the cook and how she tries to escape her past.  All stories are interesting and tie together here and there.  We are left wondering if Carmelina will be discovered, if Leonello will seek justice and find out who has been murdering the girls and who killed his friend, and if Giulia and the whole group will escape the French army.  The book is exciting, interesting and riveting.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to The Lion and the Rose to continue the story.  The Borgia's are an interesting family because they dominated the Renaissance, and seemed so corrupt.  They have been accused of greed and even incest.  Although, Rome and the church were already corrupt long before Borgia became Pope.  Benefices and pardons were sold, vows of chastity ignored, and illegitimate children sired by men of the church.  Giulia's husband Orsini was well rewarded for marrying Giulia and stepping aside; this was done sometimes for mistresses of powerful men.  Leonello and Carmelina are fictional characters, but great additions to the story.  Leonello provides a friendship with Giulia and also the main source for the murder mystery going on around Rome.  Carmelina is great because she describes the food and it's so mouth watering to read about.  Giulia seems like she was a very nice person, one who got to know those around her and protected them.  I would definitely recommend this book.

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