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The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner: A Book Review

The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia
Author: C.W Gortner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Pages: 401
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, bestselling author C. W. Gortner effortlessly weaves history and drama in this captivating novel about one of the world’s most notorious families. Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias fascinated and terrorized fifteenth-century Renaissance Italy, and Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, was at the center of the dynasty’s ambitions. Slandered as a heartless seductress who lured men to their doom, was she in fact the villainess of legend, or was she trapped in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and survival?

     With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, a new era has dawned in Rome. Benefitting from their father’s elevation are the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—each of whom assumes an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: Alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, the threat of a French invasion forces him to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.

     Beautifully wrought, rich with fascinating historical detail, The Vatican Princess is the first novel to describe Lucrezia’s coming-of-age in her own voice. What results is a dramatic, vivid tale set in an era of savagery and unparalleled splendor, where enemies and allies can be one and the same, and where loyalty to family can ultimately be a curse.

     My Review: C.W. Gortner is one of my favorite authors of all time. Ever since he wowed me in The Last Queen, on every release day of his novels, I always go to my local Barnes and Nobles right on opening time and purchase his newest selection, often before they even have time to put the book on the shelves. His books have always been a NEED rather than a WANT for me. After I bought The Queen’s Vow in 2012, I went on his website on the news section, which I check regularly, and saw that he had a novel based on Lucrezia Borgia that will be coming out in 2016. I was elated but at the same time disappointed. Four years was a long wait for me. I wished that the book would have come out immediately. To pacify that time waiting for the novel about Lucrezia Borgia, I read many biographies on the subject. Then, in 2015, when C.W. Gortner released his latest novel, Mademoiselle Chanel, I was ecstatic. I devoured the novel on its release day and was satisfied. His latest novel definitely pacified me waiting one more year for his Lucrezia Borgia novel. So when I happened to come across his novel about Lucrezia Borgia, now titled The Vatican Princess, on Netgalley, I was super excited! Hooray! The wait was finally almost over! I was happy that I was granted early access to the novel that I had waited four years for, and if I loved it, I would purchase it on release day and add it to my C.W. Gortner collection. I knew that I would instantly fall in love with the book because I loved everything he had written so far. Immediately, when I had the ARC novel on my kindle, I made a cup of coffee, sat down, and began to devour the book, excited to be transported to the Borgia era. After I finished the book, the result was . . . a huge letdown.

     The Vatican Princess is about Lucrezia Borgia’s early life. She is the bastard daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. When the pope Innocent VIII dies, and her father is in the conclave as the cardinals choose the new pope, Lucrezia feels that her life is about to change. For right now, she is the daughter of a nobody, but if her father becomes pope, she knows that she will be important. Her father does become pope Alexander VI. Yet, to be pope, Alexander made a bargain. He would marry his daughter Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza. Soon, Lucrezia is thrust into an unhappy marriage. Lucrezia then realizes that there is an animosity between her father and her husband. Lucrezia must choose one over the other. As she makes her decision. Lucrezia fights for her happiness.

     I did like how C.W Gortner portrayed Lucrezia Borgia in the book. Lucrezia is a strong female protagonist. She is at first naive and obedient. She can also be judgmental. Over the course of the novel, she grows into a mature woman. She is clever and observant. She can see through other people’s deceits. She is very strong-willed. She is obstinate and is determined to fight for her own happiness.

     Now that I have told you what I like about this book here are the things that disappointed me. One of the things I like best about C.W. Gortner’s novels is that they are all meticulously researched. I do not think this was the case here. Maybe if I had not read the Lucrezia Borgia’s biographies, especially my personal favorites by Sarah Bradford and Maria Bellonci, then I might have enjoyed this novel a bit more. I could not find anything remotely accurate in the novel about Lucrezia. It was like C.W. Gortner only read the basic details about her life and did not explore any deeper. There was no depth to her story.

     Over three-quarters of the novel is about Lucrezia’s marriage to her first husband, Giovanni. Giovanni is portrayed as a villain in this story. In history, Giovanni was not a villain. While Giovanni and pope Alexander VI were hostile towards each other, he was not a bad husband. With this book being a historical fiction book, I can see why the author would make him a villain if it drove the plot. However, by making Giovanni the villain, it did nothing to enhance the plot. Instead it became boring and repetitive.The second thing I did not like was that the author portrayed the rumors surrounding Lucrezia to be true. One of the things I like about C.W. Gortner’s novels is that he take a much-maligned character, and give us a spin on the rumors surrounding her. This novel was not the case. Yes, Lucrezia is a sympathetic character. However, C.W. Gortner took no effort to dissuade the rumors. Instead, he enhanced it to try to make his novel interesting. This did not make his novel enticing. Instead, it made for very uncomfortable reading and did nothing to further the plot.

     Overall, this book is a coming-of-age tale. It is about a woman who is searching for happiness. The story was a very unsatisfying read. I could not connect with the story and the characters, for most of them were one-dimensional with little depth. This was not C.W. Gortner’s best. Lucrezia Borgia is a hard subject to write about, but C.W. Gortner just could not pull it off. I hate to say this, but I will not purchase The Vatican Princess to add it to my C.W. Gortner collection. He is still my favorite author of all time, and I am still going to keep reading every book he writes. I am excited to read his next novel, Marlene. For those of you who are not familiar with Lucrezia Borgia’s storyline, you might enjoy it. However, for longtime fans of C.W. Gortner and who know what to expect from him, I advise you to skip it and read his other novels instead. The Vatican Princess is forgettable and a disappointment.

Rating 2 ½ out of 5 stars

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