cover image The Vatican Princess

The Vatican Princess

C.W. Gortner. Ballantine, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-345-53397-5

The latest from historical novelist Gortner (after Mademoiselle Chanel) is a lurid, old-school story that revolves around Lucrezia Borgia, the doted-upon illegitimate daughter of the notoriously corrupt Rodrigo Borgia, who was Pope Alexander VI. As she grows into her teen years, Lucrezia becomes a pawn in her family’s political schemes. After being married off to a near-penniless man who seems more drawn to her vicious eldest brother, Juan, Lucrezia finds herself lusting after both her brother Cesare—a reluctant cardinal with ambitions beyond the church—and her sister-in-law’s brother, Alfonso, with whom she shares an interest in books. Family dastardliness and intrigue soon turn Lucrezia’s life upside down, as she becomes pregnant and tries to have her loveless marriage dissolved after several violent incidents. Gortner’s book features several anachronisms for the late 1400s, such as the protagonist’s sympathy for exiled Jews, but the narrative is also unapologetically pulpy and titillating. Ultimately, Lucrezia is pitted against the men of her powerful family, who expect her loyalty in the face of their ruthlessness. Cesare tries to win his father’s love as he sets about conquering land and crushing Borgia’s enemies, and everyone becomes a bit paranoid. Gortner’s story makes for an engaging tale. (Feb.)