cover image The Scarlet Contessa

The Scarlet Contessa

Jeanne Kalogridis, St. Martin's, $25.99 (512p) ISBN 978-0-312-36953-8

This vividly rendered historical takes readers to tempestuous Renaissance Italy, where city-states and noble families battle for supremacy over Italy and, through the papacy, the world. Caterina Sforza comes into power by marrying the illegitimate son of Pope Sixtus, and while her husband is slothful and suspicious, Caterina is clever and ambitious, allying herself with powerful men to ensure her family's success throughout tumultuous times. Always by her side is her confidante, Dea, who has a gift for reading tarot cards, and, as our narrator, relates Caterina's struggles and schemes against a lush backdrop swarming with the most powerful families of the day—the Borgias and the Medicis, though these players, unfortunately, feel mostly like window dressing. Seeing the world through Dea's eyes only makes the reader yearn more to know what Caterina, who remains too much a mystery, is thinking. There's plenty of intrigue and conspiracy in the lusty plot, but the characters don't quite sing. (July)