The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia. C. W. Gortner. Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House LLC, New York. February 2016. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9780345533975.
The Borgias: ruthless, perverted, calculating, infamous! Lucrezia describes the infamy as a “poison in our blood.” Some would say the family of Lucrezia was cursed. However, C. W. Gortner, after meticulous research, clearly places Lucrezia in the middle of a fictional world where her father, Rodrigo, bribes his way to the papacy as Pope Alexander VI and her mother Vannozza appears for the bounty to follow. The whole family seems anxious to marry Lucrezia off to Spain despite the fact that she is really but a child entering her teens, not yet become a “blooded” woman. So who is this young woman: saint, sinner or both? We watch this woman brutally pass from the world of her father’s innocent adoration to eventually realizing just how severely her brothers hate each other and how manipulative her own father was and is in the late 15th Century. Indeed, each member of this family, including the Pope’s mistress, make their own disasters!
The hatred between Juan and Cesare clearly parallels the larger turmoil raging across Europe as Spain and France look for the opportunity to invade Italy and destroy the Borgias. Even the cities within Italy are constantly waging civil war and seeking foreign assistance to victory. But the spoils of victory are not necessarily true for the Borgias as the Pope is always borrowing to escape looming debt and bankruptcy of the Vatican. Lucrezia’s first husband, a Sforza, has little money but large expectations; as the reality looms, his true nature is cruelly revealed to Lucrezia along with that of her brother Juan. Shocking scenes are the norm herein but one finds it impossible to stop flipping pages and wondering what in heaven will happen in this hellish Vatican world.
Murder, rape, theft and so much more follow within each new chapter. Lucrezia will briefly find great love in her second husband, Alfonso, but her own treacherous silence will test that relationship to the maximum level!
Juan, who is worshipped by his father, trusts no one and reveals a force of cruelty and perversion that makes him totally unlikeable and perpetually mistrusted. Cesare, who moves quickly from priest to Cardinal, would rather be a warrior for he also lusts for battle and vengeance. Lucrezia after one particular scene realizes she must stay far away from Cesare. The results of that scene will shock the reader many times as the complex, insane plot continues. While there is a touch of repetitive snarling throughout the story, there are brilliant and potent quotes to savor and remember.
The Vatican Princess… is a phenomenal and memorable read that will provoke much talk and controversy in the days to come. Read it and be amazed at the power and depravity of this family that scurrilously left so much pain and passion in its wake.