Publisher: Ballantine Books
Released: February 9, 2016
Received: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: DNF at page 259 (64%)
I keep starting and erasing this review. I'm struggling because on one hand, I really, really wanted to love this book. I've been a big C. W. Gortner fan and I'd been looking forward to his take on Lucrezia for years. On the other hand, I did DNF it.
I think it all boils down to C. W. Gortner's portrayal of Lucrezia. She's too innocent, young, and dumb. Her attempts at scheming are childish and uninteresting. I wanted her to be calculating. I wanted her to be stronger. I wanted her to be someone I could root for, but instead I ended up feeling mild dislike.
And, now that I think about it, the other characters suffered similarly. For such a passionate, polarizing family, these characters came across as thin caricatures, not capable of evoking strong feelings in me or leaving any kind of lasting impression. Borgia himself was a weak, easily fooled old man. Ceasare was a stereotypical, boring Byronic hero, with none of the allure or intrigue I was hoping to get. Juan was just one-note evil.
Lucrezia kept hovering on the outside of the Borgia family schemes, but I never got to dive into them and it was hard to imagine the characters I was shown would be capable of any kind of interesting plotting. This made for a boring, frustrating read.
I kept waiting for something interesting to happen or for Lucrezia to take some control of her story, but that never happened. I get that she was a political pawn for her family and didn't have a whole lot of control, but she didn't even have any agency in her thoughts. Events just happened to her and she stumbled blindly through her life with this stupefying wide-eyed innocence, which makes little sense considering her family.
Maybe this is because Lucrezia is younger during the parts I read and she will grow to be a stronger person? I keep trying to make excuses because I so want to like this book, but I feel like I'm grasping for excuses.
Lucrezia also stumbled into a large number of graphically sexual situations. I guess that's fine in a Borgia book, but it felt like this book couldn't decide what it wanted to be: a revisionist redemption novel for pure innocent Lucrezia, a salacious sexfest, or a serious historical novel. I don't think it really succeeded in any of those areas and the combination didn't really work. The graphic parts also seemed almost boring and repetitive because they were used to show how evil the villainous characters were, and it was all very cackling and one-dimensional.
This may be a case of high hopes dashed. I fell in love with C. W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow and The Last Queen, about Isabella and Juana, two tempestuous queens with drama-filled lives. Neither woman is easy to like, but C. W. Gortner really showed the nuances of their characters. There was so much depth and historical detail packed into those books.
But this one just seemed to lack both the depth of characterization and the depth of historical substance that those other two books had. I didn't feel transported to that historical time period. Really, it could have been any "olden" time or place. I didn't feel like I learned anything, and I am far from a Borgia scholar. The few details included felt very surface-level and minimally researched. I didn't feel compelled to race to Google and start digging deeper into the history of these people and their time. I didn't feel much of anything and the whole thing had a very "phoned-in" vibe to it.
I guess this one is a miss for me, but I'm not giving up on Gortner just yet. I have a copy of his Catherine de Medici book, and I still have high hopes for it. But for this one, I'm very disappointed.