cover image The Blackened Mirror: Memoirs of the Borgian Sibyl Book 1

The Blackened Mirror: Memoirs of the Borgian Sibyl Book 1

Jo Graham. Candlemark & Gleam, $22.45 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-952456-14-5

Graham (Black Ships) recalls the midcentury legacy of Taylor Caldwell and Mary Renault in this smart series launch, humanizing history from the perspective of deeply imagined, unironically presented characters. Here, she “leap[s] into the Borgias” through the eyes of 16-year-old Giulia Farnese, wedded to a weakling scion of the noble Orsini family in 15th-century Rome. Minor gentry herself, she wonders why the Orsini patriarch chose her, the more so when he dictates that her marriage remain unconsummated. Virginity—and an untrained gift of second sight—make Giulia a Dove, a pure vessel to channel visions conjured from the demon Asmodeus, and the Orsinis intend to use her as a pawn in their power play with the Medicis and the Borgias. Terrified and furious, Giulia is also canny about her situation, and is increasingly willing to explore her own potential for ruthlessness. Readers must likewise be willing to plumb such matters as palazzo architecture and arguments between Renaissance humanism and Catholic tradition, which factor more prominently than any fantastical element. Still, this slow-building introduction to complex intrigue will please readers looking for vivid historical fare with just a touch of magic. (Mar.)