STARRED REVIEW
March 2017

Power, politics and conspiracy

By Sarah Dunant
Review by

Lies, corruption, treachery, lust, infidelity, greed—all the elements present in Sarah Dunant’s bestselling novels set in the tumultuous years of the Italian Renaissance are somehow magnified in her latest, the continuation of her astute dissection of the lives of the Borgia family, which she began with 2014’s Blood and Beauty.

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Lies, corruption, treachery, lust, infidelity, greed—all the elements present in Sarah Dunant’s bestselling novels set in the tumultuous years of the Italian Renaissance are somehow magnified in her latest, the continuation of her astute dissection of the lives of the Borgia family, which she began with 2014’s Blood and Beauty.

It’s the winter of 1501-1502 when In the Name of the Family opens: Rodrigo Borgia is firmly ensconced in the Vatican as Pope Alexander VI, who openly “uses his illegitimate children as weapons to carve a new dynastic block of power.” Cesare, his eldest son, is systematically directing his army of mercenaries in their march northward as they overtake the small city-states of Tuscany, breaking long-standing alliances and killing at will those he once supported. His sister Lucrezia is traveling north to Ferrara to marry Alfonso d’Este, the son of the Duke of Ferrara—a marriage forged merely to solidify Borgia dominance in Tuscany, where Cesare’s ultimate goal is the acquisition of Florence itself.

Characters surrounding this Borgia triumvirate include Niccolò Machiavelli, who is appointed Undersecretary to Florence’s Council, and serves as envoy to Rome. He’s portrayed by Dunant as a thoughtful observer of the political maneuvers made by Cesare and the pope—observations thought to lead to his signature work, The Prince, completed in 1513 after both of his subjects have died. Machiavelli is witness to many of Cesare’s “thuggish acts,” but also perceives his virtue, “that shimmering slippery work that mixes strength, vitality and skill in equal measures.”

Lucrezia, too, is given sympathetic treatment by Dunant, who focuses on her manipulation by her father and brother, leading to three arranged marriages by the time she turns 22. The pressure on her to bear male heirs is a constant source of worry, complicated by the ever-present threat of disease and the dangers of childbirth.

Dunant’s meticulously researched portrayal of these iconic characters and the violent, conspiracy-filled times in which they lived is a captivating piece of historical fiction. Both entertaining and enlightening, it’s sure to be welcomed by her many readers.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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In the Name of the Family

In the Name of the Family

By Sarah Dunant
Random House
ISBN 9780812996975

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