Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review of THE SCARLET CONTESSA by Jeanne Kalogridis

Bestselling author Jeanne Kalogridis (The Borgia Bride and I, Mona Lisa) returns to Renaissance Italy in this vivid tale of one of the era's lesser known figures— the indomitable Caterina Sforza, illegitimate daughter of the duke of Milan, who married into the papal della Rovere family and ended up battling for her estates against the notorious Borgia.

Told through the eyes of Caterina's lady in waiting, Dea, the book sweeps the reader from the glamorous barbarism of the Sforza court to the vicious intrigues of Rome and insular savagery of rural Romagna. Dea is a strong narrator in her own right, her mysterious birth and determination to uncover the mystery behind her husband's murder propelling her into arcane magical knowledge linked to a secret society founded by the Medici.

Dea's compassion and loyalty to her mistress give the story its humanity; and while at times the supernatural dalliances can feel forced, Ms Kalogridis more than compensates with superb attention to details of the era and in her riveting depiction of the danger and ambition of a country broken into patchwork states, where families vying for power will do anything to ensure their success. Infamous Rodrigo Borgia, patriarch of the clan, strides across the stage as a magnetic master of seduction, terrifying in his resolve, and Caterina’s husband is a murderous giant with a weakness for gambling and appetite for mayhem. But in the end, the reader’s heart is captured by Caterina Sforza herself— a pampered, vain young girl married off to further Sforza influence in Rome, who grows into a shrewd and calculating wife possessed of a ferocious carnality, capable of intriguing with the best of the men to safeguard her dynasty; until finally she becomes the unrepentant virago of legend, resolved to protect her children and her lands from Borgia's marauding forces.

Ms Kalogridis has crafted a magnificent evocation of a tumultuous and complex era, where the ripple of silk hides a vial of poison, where the dagger in the sleeve is only a breath away, and where one bold woman dares to defy convention and live as she sees fit. Highly recommended!


Daphne said...

I"ve had this one on my wish list for a while and have been looking forward to reading it so I"m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I've been surprised though at the lack of reviews that I've seen around blogland. I figured it would have been more heavily promoted.

Sarah Johnson said...

I'm glad to hear this one is good! Like Daphne, I haven't been hearing much about it online, and it's not in my local (well, 50 miles away is local for me) bookstores either, so I haven't seen a physical copy yet. I'll put it on my wishlist.

C.W. Gortner said...

I haven't seen much about it online either, but it's stocked at my local Borders and independent. I think it's well worth checking out; a splendid novel.

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