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Publisher's Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Italian Renaissance novels—The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts—has an exceptional talent for breathing life into history. Now Sarah Dunant turns her discerning eye to one of the world’s most intriguing and infamous families—the Borgias—in an engrossing work of literary fiction.

By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.

©2013 Sarah Dunant (P)2013 Random House

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 12-04-15

Start with Other Dunant Books

I was disappointed with this novel. I've read and loved several other books by Sarah Dunant, but this one didn't live up to the others. My feeling is that she got so involved with her research and wanting to retell the historical events from the point of view she had adopted, that she somehow forgot to create credible and fully formed characters. In wanting to present a more "balanced" view of the Borgias, who, based on recent historical research, appear not to have been the monsters they've been made out to be—indeed, the current thinking is they behaved in a way congruent with the times they lived in—the story seemed to me to lack the excitement and spice one would have expected from the title. Yes, there is murder and plenty of blood is spilled, but somehow all this seems to be at a remove, as seen from the eyes of a historian rather than a talented fiction writer. While her other books have all carried me away and made me want to follow the flow of her stories and live with the characters for a while, this one felt stiff and formulaic and frankly, rather boring in the end. I'm still giving it a decent rating because I'm a great lover of historical fiction and Dunant certainly did her homework in that sense, but this is not the book I would recommend to someone new to her writing.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Different, Sympathetic

Sarah Dunant made the right choice to take a step back from a first person POV in this book and use a more distant, almost impartial narration. It does make the story less engaging and a bit harder to follow or immerse oneself in, but it allows the reader to have a bit more sympathy for this infamous family and their intrigues. It seemed that great care was taken to show the Borgias as they might have been and not fall victim as so many other writers have done and dive right into scandal and incest. The scandal and intrigues are there (less so the incest) but the reader is invited to take a step back and look at it from a point of view other than an excitable "Look what they did!"

Overall a good piece of historical fiction.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Hatt

Ohhh, the Borgias! An interview i heard with Dunavant persuaded my buy. Ballerini is fabulous!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • RB
  • 10-06-13

Great Story...

If you could sum up Blood & Beauty in three words, what would they be?

Captivating and a well told story.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Blood & Beauty?

all of it

Which character – as performed by Edoardo Ballerini – was your favorite?

All of them

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This book both made me laugh and cry.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Superb!

What made the experience of listening to Blood & Beauty the most enjoyable?

The writing is exquisite - mellifluous and poetic. Her psychological take on the situations and characters are interesting and plausible.

What did you like best about this story?

The character development, the plot and Dunant's skill in keeping me fully engrossed.

What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

His performance was impeccable and added tremendously to the richness of the story and my immersion into the characters.

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed this book so much that I am unable to read another historical fiction novel (my favorite genre) at this time. Blood and Beauty is so well crafted that it will be a tough act to follow.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Taryn
  • Suffern, NY, United States
  • 09-15-13

Borgias Brought to Life

I found this historical novel about the Borgias fascinating. With all that has been written about them through the years, I feel that Ms. Dunant has done a wonderful job of making them come alive as real people. You feel the pain Lucretia feels as a young innocent who is manipulated by her father and brother. The arrogance and lust for power of Cesare and the corrupt and exploitive nature of the Pope in almost every aspect of his life except his love for his children . It was not a fast moving book but the fabulous narration of Mr. Ballerini kept me listening and wondering what would happen next! If you like Historical fiction I think you will find this book well written and researched

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Netherda
  • Santa Rosa, CA, United States
  • 04-03-14

Disorganized

Great reader, but the story is so jumbled it is difficult to follow.
I couldn't make it even half way through.
Not worth the time.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Breath of Fresh Air

If you could sum up Blood & Beauty in three words, what would they be?

Excellent Historical Fiction

Who was your favorite character and why?

Lucretia --- because Dunant gives her a modern feminist strength, within the restraints of the patriarchal culture of 15th Century Europe and within the Roman Catholic Church.

What does Edoardo Ballerini bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I enjoyed his narration of Beautiful Ruins, and he didn't disappoint here, except I had to get the image of Carlo Tursi out of my head and replace it with Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia! He is terrific with Italian themed stories. His use of the language gives it all its beauty and charm.

If you could take any character from Blood & Beauty out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Tough choice --- only one, probably Lucretia because of her natural resilience and depth. Other wise it would be fascinating to have dinner with Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI and Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the soon to be Pope Julius II. That would be a dinner of first rate minds and devious temperaments ---- their nonverbal communication would be more fascinating than the words they would share.

Any additional comments?

Dunant brings a fresh view of the Borgias to the over-saturated media versions on Showtime and the BBC. Her history seeks authenticity not sensationalism though rumor and innuendo. The Borgias were plenty corrupt without the titillation of incest, suspected not proven.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Why I returned this book

Maybe the story will improve. But I decided after about two and a half hours of listening not to wait to see. I chose this book because the sequel got such a great review in The New York Times Book Review so I figured I’d listen to this one first. (I’ll not bother with the sequel.) I felt like I’m listening to all the details of a celeb life or royal marriage and I’m not one of those people interested in the details of how long the pope’s mistress’s hair is. I thought I’d get to some real plot sooner. So far it reminded me of one of Alexandre Dumas’ less exciting books (I loved most of his books but see my review of the overrated Red Sphinx).

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I thought this was a novel...

If it is a novel, it reads like a boring history book. I was disappointed because I came across this book through a blog written by the author who was reviewing the Showtime original series The Borgias. She expressed that the real story was much more interesting than the series but the book was boring and ended without finishing the story (in my opinion). The narration was overly dramatic for the content of the book. he read it like a romance novel but it wasn't.