Monday, February 10, 2020

#BookReview: The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

Biographic Fiction

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During the sweltering Roman summer of 1492, Rodrigo Borgia has risen to power as pope. Rodrigo’s eldest son Cesare, forced to follow his father into the church and newly made the Archbishop of Valencia, chafes at his ecclesiastical role and fumes with jealousy and resentment at the way that his foolish brother has been chosen for the military greatness he desired.

Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside, where she has seen how the whims of powerful men wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people. But now, employed as a servant in the Vatican Palace, she cannot help but be entranced by Cesare Borgia’s handsome face and manner and finds her faith and conviction crumbling in her want of him.

As war rages and shifting alliances challenge the pope’s authority, Maddalena and Cesare's lives grow inexplicably entwined. Maddalena becomes a keeper of dangerous Borgia secrets, and must decide if she is willing to be a pawn in the power games of the man she loves. And as jealousy and betrayal threaten to tear apart the Borgia family from within, Cesare is forced to reckon with his seemingly limitless ambition.

Alyssa Palombo's captivating new novel, The Borgia Confessions, is a story of passion, politics, and class, set against the rise and fall of one of Italy's most infamous families--the Borgias.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Borgia Confessions invites readers to explore the halls of the Vatican Palace, peek behind its decadent curtains, and glimpse its most exclusive chambers to understand the rise of notorious Borgia scion, Cesare.

Written as a sort of bad boy origins story, The Borgia Confessions illustrates Cesare’s world as well as the politics and personalities that shaped him into Machiavelli’s quintessential Prince. Palombo understands the complex legacy of her protagonist, and the story she presents is a brilliantly imagined chronicle of his evolution and the sins he felt forced to commit in the name of both familial and personal ambition.

Politically, I loved how this novel captured the ruthless and manipulative nature of power during this period and the dangerous games played by those at its pinnacle. Palombo’s characters aren’t likable, but they aren’t supposed to be. They are a complicated collection of immoral schemers, deceivers, hypocrites, and rogues. Their lack of scruples and less than holy lifestyles deliberately provokes the reader and creates a boldly memorable novel of conflict, controversy, and corruption.

The only aspect of the story that didn’t work for me was Maddalena. Her relationship with Cesare felt one-sided, and her role, while fun to read, didn’t feel intrinsic to the telling. She didn’t detract from the novel by any means, but she felt like something of a late addition to the narrative, a character shoehorned into place to appease industry standards requiring romantic subplots. I love what Maddalena represents and feel she boasts an admirable degree of brass, but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel her at all necessary to Cesare’s journey.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 17, 2020