Book Review: Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower

Sins of the House of Borgia
Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary:   Violante isn't supposed to be here, in one of the grandest courts of Renaissance Italy. She isn't supposed to be a lady-in-waiting to the beautiful Lucrezia Borgia. But the same secretive  politics that pushed Lucrezia's father to the Vatican have landed Violante deep in a lavish landscape of passion and ambition.
Violante discovers a Lucrezia unknown to those who see only a scheming harlot, and all the whispers about her brother, Cesare Borgia, never revealed the soul of the man who dances close with Violante.

But those who enter the House of Borgia are never quite the same when they leave-if they leave at all. Violante's place in history will test her heart and leave her the guardian of dangerous secrets she must carry to the grave.

I am a serious lover of historical fiction & setting them in Ferrara is usually a bonus & increases the odds I'll love a book. Not here. It's well written & has a lot of detail but it has one glaring problem that cannot be overlooked or discounted. The narrator. First, she has three names going over the course of this story. We meet her as Esther, she converts to Catholicism & is then Donata, she then is nicknamed Violante by Cesare & so we go with that as well.

Now possibly this wouldn't bother me so much but sadly, this is about the most interesting thing about her. You'd think that for all this reinvention she'd be riveting but she isn't. And that takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the story because we rely on her to give color & patina to everything. Often times I was annoyed because it was clear that I had figured out what Esther/Donata/Violante had not (the big reveal at the end didn't astonish me). Not only was she not very self-aware, she had no clue what was going on around her. Even granting that the main character is young, over the course of 500+ pages, one does expect to see some character growth. I gave up on her around 75% in and just remained to find our how it all ended. I wouldn't have believed it possible, but she made the Borgias tedious.

And the "relationship" between Esther/Donata/Violante was a complete waste of time. That's because it wasn't much of a relationship. Cesare displayed no qualities that telegraphed "love" for her so who knows why this was an issue that garnered so much attention in the book (I could have lived with just Cesare & La Fiametta trysting). It was a lot of Esther/Donata/Violante pining & fantasizing, some interaction with Cesare, more pining & fantasizing, sparse hook-up, fantasizing & pining. Wash. Rinse. Repeat... while you strike yourself with your Kindle over & over again. She spent the great majority of the story in make-believe & hoping one day it would all come true. Even sickness & childbirth didn't wake her up. It made her seem a simpering twit & not sympathetic. Honestly, if all that had been left out, it may have been a tighter & better told story.

I will say that in spite of everything I've said, other characters did come across well (Angela, Donna Lucrezia, the brothers of the House of Este & Gideon especially) but it becomes an annoyance as you don't spend nearly enough time with them & of course can't get away from the narrator. In the end, this was just okay and I am left a bit disappointed. I had expected a perceptive & sharp telling by a lady in waiting but apparently Esther/Donata/Violante wasn't that person to begin with. She was as disconnected in court as she was with the family she left behind. I suppose there's something to consistency but I wanted more from her.

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