Tuesday, June 18, 2019

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

If BLOOD & BEAUTY is the rise of the Borgia family, then IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY marks their fall. This rather chunky work of historical fiction details Alexander Borgia in his old age, losing first power, then his grasp on reality, and finally his own life. Beautiful and cunning Cesare is being consumed alive by syphilis, and soon, Lucrezia joins him, catching it from another husband who happens to be a little too fond of prostitutes. Even though both books are about the same family, the first one sparkles like a dagger, whereas THE NAME OF THE FAMILY is shrouded in the gloom of a funeral shroud. I'm still kind of in a funk.

IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY was not as easy to read as its prequel because the content is much darker and far less triumphant.We know how the story ends, and it's hard to root for characters when the writing's on the wall. It's a bit of a slog getting into this book, and normally I don't go for "slow reads" that wait you out, but the characters are so richly detailed and the writing is so gorgeous, that the journey is worth the effort. Honestly, this family was a real life Game of Thrones, and I'd really recommend this to anyone who's a fan of the series and wants more court intrigue and cunning schemes, as this family had both in spades. The scenes when Cesare kills his political prisoners are chilling.

Now that I'm done with the duology, I'm sad there's nothing left. It's hard for me to find historical fiction that I'm really into. Sarah Dunant has a masterful approach to story-telling, with a style that mimics that of nonfiction while still managing to be engaging. Lucrezia, Alexander, and Cesare were all so formidable in their primes; who knows what Cesare might have done to shape Italy if he hadn't contracted syphilis? He was a military genius. Dunant brought all of these long-dead historical figures to life, and they're alarmingly vivid.

I hope Sarah Dunant decides to write a follow-up to these books about the de' Medici family. Reading about the Borgias only piqued my interest in Machiavellian-style family plotting. I'd recommend BLOOD & BEAUTY and IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY to anyone interested in history and fond of court intrigue, especially court intrigue set during the peak of the Italian Renaissance.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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