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Blood & Beauty

Cover of Blood & Beauty

Blood & Beauty

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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS
The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Italian Renaissance novels—The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts—has an exceptional talent for breathing life into history. Now Sarah Dunant turns her discerning eye to one of the world's most intriguing and infamous families—the Borgias—in an engrossing work of literary fiction.


By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli's The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.
Praise for Blood & Beauty

"The Machiavellian atmosphere—hedonism, lust, political intrigue—is magnetic. . . . Readers won't want the era of Borgia rule to end."
People (four stars)

"Dunant transforms the blackhearted Borgias and the conniving courtiers and cardinals of Renaissance Europe into fully rounded characters, brimming with life and lust."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Like Hilary Mantel with her Cromwell trilogy, [Sarah] Dunant has scaled new heights by refashioning mythic figures according to contemporary literary taste. This intellectually satisfying historical saga, which offers blood and beauty certainly, but brains too, is surely the best thing she has done to date."
—The Miami Herald

"Compelling female players have been a characteristic of Dunant's earlier novels, and this new offering is no exception. . . . The members of this close-knit family emerge as dynamic characters, flawed but sympathetic, filled with fear and longing."
—The Seattle Times

"Dazzling . . . a triumph on an epic scale . . . filled with rich detail and page-turning drama."
BookPage
From the Hardcover edition.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS
The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Italian Renaissance novels—The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts—has an exceptional talent for breathing life into history. Now Sarah Dunant turns her discerning eye to one of the world's most intriguing and infamous families—the Borgias—in an engrossing work of literary fiction.


By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli's The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.
Praise for Blood & Beauty

"The Machiavellian atmosphere—hedonism, lust, political intrigue—is magnetic. . . . Readers won't want the era of Borgia rule to end."
People (four stars)

"Dunant transforms the blackhearted Borgias and the conniving courtiers and cardinals of Renaissance Europe into fully rounded characters, brimming with life and lust."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Like Hilary Mantel with her Cromwell trilogy, [Sarah] Dunant has scaled new heights by refashioning mythic figures according to contemporary literary taste. This intellectually satisfying historical saga, which offers blood and beauty certainly, but brains too, is surely the best thing she has done to date."
—The Miami Herald

"Compelling female players have been a characteristic of Dunant's earlier novels, and this new offering is no exception. . . . The members of this close-knit family emerge as dynamic characters, flawed but sympathetic, filled with fear and longing."
—The Seattle Times

"Dazzling . . . a triumph on an epic scale . . . filled with rich detail and page-turning drama."
BookPage
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    9781400069293|excerpt

    Dunant / BLOOD & BEAUTY

    Chapter 1

    August 11, 1492

    Dawn is a pale bruise rising in the night sky when, from inside the palace, a window is flung open and a face appears, its features distorted by the firelight thrown up from the torches beneath. In the piazza below, the soldiers garrisoned to keep the peace have fallen asleep. But they wake fast enough as the voice rings out:

    "WE HAVE A POPE!"

    Inside, the air is sour with the sweat of old flesh. Rome in August is a city of swelter and death. For five days, twenty-three men have been incarcerated within a great Vatican chapel that feels more like a barracks. Each is a figure of status and wealth, accustomed to eating off a silver plate with a dozen servants to answer his every call. Yet here there are no scribes to write letters and no cooks to prepare banquets. Here, with only a single manservant to dress them, these men eat frugal meals posted through a wooden hatch that snaps shut when the last one is delivered. Daylight slides in from small windows high up in the structure, while at night a host of candles flicker under the barrel-vaulted ceiling of a painted sky and stars, as vast, it seems, as the firmament. They live constantly in each other's company, allowed out only for the formal business of voting or to relieve themselves, and even in the latrines the work continues: negotiation and persuasion over the trickle of aging men's urine. Finally, when they are too tired to talk, or need to ask guidance from God, they are free to retire to their cells: a set of makeshift compartments constructed around the edges of the chapel and comprised of a chair, a table and a raised pallet for sleeping; the austerity a reminder, no doubt, of the tribulations of aspiring saints.

    Except these days saints are in short supply, particularly inside the Roman conclave of cardinals.

    The doors had been bolted on the morning of August 6. Ten days earlier, after years of chronic infirmity, Pope Innocent VIII had finally given in to the exhaustion of trying to stay alive. Inside their rooms in the Vatican palace, his son and daughter had waited patiently to be called to his bedside, but his final moments had been reserved for spatting cardinals and doctors. His body was still warm when the stories started wafting like sewer smells through the streets. The wolf pack of ambassadors and diplomats took in great lungfuls, then dispatched their own versions of events in the saddlebags of fast horses across the land: stories of how His Holiness's corpse lay shriveled, despite an empty flagon of blood drained from the veins of Roman street boys on the orders of a Jewish doctor, who had vowed it would save his life; how those same bloodless boys were already feeding the fishes in the Tiber as the doctor fled the city. Meanwhile, across the papal bedclothes, the Pope's favorite, the choleric Cardinal della Rovere, was so busy trading insults with the Vice-Chancellor, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, that neither of them actually noticed that His Holiness had stopped breathing. Possibly Innocent had died to get away from the noise, for they had been arguing for years.

    Of course, in such a web of gossip each man must choose what he wants to believe; and different rulers enjoy their news, like their meat, more or less well spiced. While few will question the cat claws of the cardinals, others might wonder about the blood, since it is well known around town that His Holiness's only sustenance for weeks had been milk from a wet-nurse installed in an antechamber and paid by the cup. Ah, what a way to go to heaven: drunk on the taste of mother's milk.

    As for the conclave that...

About the Author-
  • Sarah Dunant is the author of the international bestsellers The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts, which have received major acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Her earlier novels include three Hannah Wolfe crime thrillers, as well as Snowstorms in a Hot Climate, Transgressions, and Mapping the Edge, all three of which are available as Random House Trade Paperbacks. She has two daughters and lives in London and Florence.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine This historical novel about Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) is filled with the pomp, intrigue, and corruption that marked his tenure. Also prominent are his two eldest children, Cesare and Lucrezia. Edoardo Ballerini offers an inviting reading. He uses an Italian accent for direct quotations, which effectively sets them off from the rest of the text and adds a bit of aural atmosphere. During the text passages, Ballerini occasionally lowers his voice to a near whisper, which makes listening a bit difficult and makes the listener wonder if the passages have special meaning, which they usually don't. But overall, his voice fits the material well. The author's over-the-top use of descriptive language fits audio better than the printed page. R.C.G. (c) AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
  • BookPage

    "In Blood and Beauty, Dunant follows the path set by Hilary Mantel with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Just as Mantel humanized and, to an extent, rehabilitated the brilliant, villainous Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Dunant transforms the blackhearted Borgias and the conniving courtiers and cardinals of Renaissance Europe into fully rounded characters, brimming with life and lust. . . . Dunant illuminates the darkened narrative of the Borgia record, reviving stained glass with fresh light, refreshing the brilliance of the gold and blue panes history has marred without dulling the blood-red that glows everywhere around them."
    --The New York Times Book Review

    "[Dunant's] depiction of passionate people obsessed by the idea of a dynasty that will outlive them is not only intelligent and restrained but also lit by an affecting streak of lyricism. . . . Like Hilary Mantel with her Cromwell trilogy, Dunant has scaled new heights by refashioning mythic figures according to contemporary literary taste. This intellectually satisfying historical saga, which offers blood and beauty certainly, but brains too, is surely the best thing she has done to date."
    --The Miami Herald

    "Another achievement for Dunant is her ability to re-imagine history. Although the Borgias are often called the most notorious family in Italian Renaissance . . . Dunant manages to show different facets of their personalities. If history has left some blanks in this regard, Dunant fills them. The members of this close-knit family emerge as dynamic characters, flawed but sympathetic, filled with fear and longing, and believable."
    --The Seattle Times

    "Dazzling . . . a triumph on an epic scale . . . filled with rich detail and page-turning drama."

  • People (four stars)
    "A brilliant portrait of a family whose blood runs 'thick with ambition and determination' . . . The Machiavellian atmosphere--hedonism, lust, political intrigue--is magnetic. With so much drama, readers won't want the era of Borgia rule to end."
  • Lizzie Skurnick, All Things Considered, NPR
    "British author Sarah Dunant is the reigning queen of the historical novel set in Renaissance Italy. . . . This novel will be most rewarding for those with a keen taste for history and a willingness to stick with a lengthy story with no real heroes but plenty of fascinating and really bad behavior."
    --Richmond Times-Dispatch

    "Blood & Beauty breaks new ground, showcasing the redoubtable Borgias, a family that exerted outsized influence briefly but devastatingly over the handful of fifteenth and sixteenth century city-states that make up current-day Italy."
  • Refinery29
    "Hugely enjoyable . . . an old-fashioned rollercoaster of a story . . . [Dunant] triumphs, like all good novelists . . . in a deft, shrewd, precise use of killer detail."
    --The Guardian (U.K.)

    "[Dunant] is in her element. . . . She brings fifteenth-century Italian cities vividly alive. . . . [Blood & Beauty] is an intelligent and passionate book that will no doubt thrill Borgia-lovers."
    --The Sunday Times (U.K.)

    "The big, bad Borgia dynasty undergoes modern reconsideration in [Sarah Dunant's] epic new biofiction. . . . Dunant's biggest and best work to date, this intelligently readable account of formative events and monster players has Hilary Mantel--era quality best-seller stamped all over it."
    --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "Hilary Mantel fans and historical fiction readers in general looking for another meaty novel won't want to miss Dunant's latest."
    --Library Journal

    "For anyone obsessed with the Borgias, this tome is right up your alley--it follows the scandal-plagued family, as the patriarch Cardinal Rodrigo attempts to buy his way into the papacy. Not only does this story have family drama, illegitimate child
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