Official Synopsis from Amazon: The author of Blood and Beauty returns with another captivating novel about Renaissance Italy and one of history’s most notorious families. Before the Corleones, before the Lannisters, there were the Borgias.
Bestselling novelist Sarah Dunant has long been drawn to the high drama of Renaissance Italy: power, passion, beauty, brutality, and the ties of blood. With In the Name of the Family, she offers a thrilling exploration of the House of Borgia’s final years, in the company of a young diplomat named Niccolò Machiavelli.
It is 1502 and Rodrigo Borgia, a self-confessed womanizer and master of political corruption, is now on the papal throne as Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia, aged twenty-two—already three times married and a pawn in her father’s plans—is discovering her own power. And then there is his son Cesare Borgia, brilliant, ruthless, and increasingly unstable; it is his relationship with Machiavelli that gives the Florentine diplomat a master class in the dark arts of power and politics. What Machiavelli learns will go on to inform his great work of modern politics, The Prince. But while the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasingly erratic behavior, it is Lucrezia who must navigate the treacherous court of Urbino, her new home, and another challenging marriage to create her own place in history.
Sarah Dunant again employs her remarkable gifts as a storyteller to bring to life the passionate men and women of the Borgia family, as well as the ever-compelling figure of Machiavelli, through whom the reader will experience one of the most fascinating—and doomed—dynasties of all time.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Florence, Urbino, Rome, and Ferrara (Italy) 1502-1503
***I received a copy of In the Name of the Family from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.***
Review: In the Name of the Family has fascinating historical detail, but the story ultimately fails to captivate. Telling the story of the famous Borgia family during the years of 1502 to 1503, In the Name of the Family begins as Lucrezia Borgia is about to be married to her third husband, Alfonso d’Este. Lucrezia’s brother, Cesare Borgia, is stirring up trouble and taking over cities, and their father, Pope Alexander VI, is scheming away in Rome. Into the mix of the Borgias comes Niccolo Machiavelli, a diplomat from Florence who is sent to Cesare Borgia.
In reading the synopsis above, it mentions the Corleones and the Lannisters, both families with intrigue and scandal attached to their names. The Corleones are from The Godfather series, and the Lannisters are from A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones). So I was expecting the Borgias to fascinate and intrigue me. Unfortunately, they failed to fully pique my interest. I think this has to do with the time frame that the book is set in. Lucrezia’s relationship with her second husband, whom her brother murdered, sounds like a fascinating story. Unfortunately, those events are in the past when this book begins, and the story of Lucrezia travelling and meeting her new husband, who is more interested in his whores and his foundry than her, just isn’t that exciting. While I liked Lucrezia, and I actually liked her soon-to-be husband, Alfonso d’Este, their story was fairly bland compared to what Lucrezia’s relationship with her second husband was surely like. Also, Lucrezia would go on to have an affair with her brother-in-law, who was married to Alfonso’s sister (who hated Lucrezia) and that sounds like an interesting tale. Alas, the book doesn’t go that far, so we don’t get that story here.
And Cesare, who is supposed to be this good-looking playboy, with the strategic wit, was interesting to a point, but the more interesting details (how he was able to take over Urbino and Sinigaglia) are glossed over, and I just felt a bit let down. I wanted more of his plotting and drama to be in the book.
And the same with the Pope. Pope Alexander VI seemed to be an interesting guy, with the desire to rule the world, but he also had an extreme love of his family, so to have that juxtaposition of destruction towards everyone else, but powerful attachment to his children was interesting to read. He was probably my favorite character to read, as he was pulling the strings and slowly declining. I didn’t like him, but he was unpredictable and therefore interesting.
These three characters, along with Machiavelli (who was very bland in comparison), make for a historically fascinating book, but I wanted more. More drama, more conspiracy, more romance. Just more all around. Some interesting tidbits are briefly mentioned; with the mundane items receiving more of a narrative priority, and these decisions didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
The “F word” is used many times here, which seemed a bit out of place to me, and there are also many mentions of syphilis (or the “French pox”) and how the disease manifests which were intriguing to me, but may be a little gross for some. I did learn more about how syphilis was viewed as a man’s disease, with little thought to how women could get the disease, and how few women were actually given any treatment for it.
All in all, In the Name of the Family will appeal to those who love historical fiction and want to learn more about the Borgias. I think that perhaps the earlier book by Sarah Dunant, Blood and Beauty, which traces the earlier story of the Borgias, may be more interesting and have that intrigue that was missing here. I haven’t read that one yet, but now I want to! I wonder if there will be a third Borgia book, as In the Name of the Family felt like a transition book, where we have the fallout of certain actions from before, and a setup for what is yet to come.
Bottom Line: There was something missing here. Fascinating historical detail, but the characters failed to draw me in. I rated this book three stars on Goodreads.
In the Name of the Family was published on March 7, 2017.
Does this sound like a good read? Have you read any of Sarah Dunant’s other books? Have you read any other books about the Borgias? Watched the TV show? Have you read Machiavelli’s The Prince?