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Review: The Borgia Betrayal, by Sara Poole

05/08/2011

Review originally posted at Luxury Reading June 12, 2011. You can navigate directly to the post here.

Francesca Giordano, poisoner to His Holiness Pope Alexander VI, lives a life full of secrets. An independent, passionate woman in late fifteenth-century Rome, she is responsible for protecting the Pope and his family — the infamous Borgias — from outside harm as well as for consolidating Il Papa’s position by eliminating those who could pose a threat to the safety of St. Peter’s Throne. But Francesca has another, deeper purpose: to find and kill the man responsible for her father’s death while in then-Cardinal Borgia’s service.

When the elusive killer allies with the Pope’s enemy, Girolamo Savonarola, to remove the Pope and install Savonarola in that office, a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse ensues in the piazzas and tunnels of Rome, even penetrating the boundaries of the Vatican itself. Can Francesca fulfill her duty to the Pope and avenge her father…or will she give her life in the attempt?

Sara Poole’s second novel about the enigmatic Francesca pulls the reader in from the start. She is a femme fatale, both strong enough to confront the challenges before her (and thwarting the men who would stop her in the process) and attuned enough to her own passions to indulge them. At times Poole expertly draws out Francesca’s deep-seated vulnerability — her wistful denial of love, the gradual recollection of repressed memories, and fear of losing still more people she loves — to create a truly three-dimensional character with whom any reader can relate.

Rome comes alive through Poole’s use of descriptors; it is easy to imagine the sultry heat of the summer and to conjure the bustle of people in the marketplace in ones’ mind. While some descriptions are repetitive, the picture of Rome is no less vivid for it. Skillful narrative makes use of the setting and allows for a few different subplots to intermingle while never losing sight of the main story, or of Francesca’s interactions with the supporting characters. Setting The Borgia Betrayal down often required a few moments to readjust to the real world; to me, that is the mark of an adept storyteller. Also, while this book is a sequel, Poole is careful to explain references to the earlier book well enough to make it a viable stand-alone story.

The Borgia Betrayal is a fast-paced historical narrative that keeps the reader hooked until the unexpected conclusion. Rather than dissatisfying, the loose threads at the end only made me want to read Poole’s next work even more.

Rating: 4/5

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Griffin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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