Book Review: Blood & Beauty – Sarah Dunant

Blood & Beauty coverTitle: Blood & Beauty: The Borgias
Author: Sarah Dunant
ISBN: 9781400069293
Pages: 528
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The year is 1492 and Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI, has just been elected the latest leader of the Catholic Church. His first order of business? To advance his family, his illegitimate children, and the Borgia name. As Alexander VI plots and schemes, using his sons Juan and Cesare and daughter Lucrezia as pawns to further his own ends, he makes enemies left and right who don’t trust this Spaniard in a land of Italians.


Blood & Beauty: The Borgias is a remarkably ambitious novel, spanning much of Alexander VI’s papacy. This was a complex time in history, a period of change and strife across Europe; Dunant has her work cut out for her in order to relate the breadth of what was happening at the time. She succeeds in this; readers who are unfamiliar with the Borgias and what was happening during this time period will feel as though they’ve received a comprehensive (yet still entertaining) look at Italian politics. Readers who know the time period, though, will see how much history Dunant had to gloss over in order to tell her story, and while exceptionally well done, it’s worth asking whether this would have been better separated into two novels.

Indeed, readers will wish Dunant had made the decision when they meet her engaging and charismatic characters. It takes a bit of time to truly warm up to them—one hundred pages or so—but once the reader settles into the novel, they will very much appreciate what Dunant has done with Alexander VI, Cesare, and Lucrezia. Alexander has a soft spot for his children; while ambitious, he also wants what’s best for his children. While he can be difficult at times, it’s endearing how much he cares for his children. Cesare, on the other hand, is ruthless and cunning. He will stop at nothing to further his own ends and gain what he seeks, no matter how twisted his desires are. Lucrezia provides a nice counterbalance to the darkness present in her family; she’s a strong, confident female voice in a novel that almost drowns in masculinity. It’s Lucrezia who will really capture the reader’s heart and keep them engaged in this novel.

The writing style of Blood & Beauty is truly remarkable. While Dunant’s first historical novels  had a simpler style, reminiscent of authors such as Philippa Gregory, her latest endeavors have been more sophisticated. This novel particularly brings to mind Hilary Mantel (author of Wolf Hall); it’s so interesting to see how Dunant has morphed and elevated her writing style. It’s very effective for this book, as her writing draws the reader in from the very first page.

I have no doubt that Blood & Beauty will be one of the most talked about books of the year. Dunant brings the Borgias to life with her graceful writing, and readers will find themselves completely captivated by these intriguing, imperfect, and sometimes completely distasteful characters. Dunant left the ending open for a sequel, and I, for one, certainly hope she revisits these characters and tells the rest of their stories soon.

Other books by Sarah Dunant:

Sacred Hearts

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  1. She is already hard at work on the followup, which I think will finish out the Borgia pope’s term.

  2. I have always heard of the Borgia family. Never have read about them. Would love to read this book. Hadn’t heard the title. Thanks for the review.

  3. Such an intriguing family and period of history. New one for me.

  4. Excellent review. I had seen this book but didn’t know much about it.

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