I'm happy to welcome historian Sharon Bennett Connolly to my blog today with a fantastic post on the daughters of William Marshal as part of her Ladies of Magna Carta blog tour!
TITLE: The Borgias: The Hidden History
AUTHOR: G.J. Meyer
DATE PUBLISHED: 2014
"The startling truth behind one of the most notorious dynasties in history is revealed in a remarkable new account by the acclaimed author of The Tudors and A World Undone. Sweeping aside the gossip, slander, and distortion that have shrouded the Borgias for centuries, G. J. Meyer offers an unprecedented portrait of the infamous Renaissance family and their storied milieu.
They burst out of obscurity in Spain not only to capture the great prize of the papacy, but to do so twice. Throughout a tumultuous half-century—as popes, statesmen, warriors, lovers, and breathtakingly ambitious political adventurers—they held center stage in the glorious and blood-drenched pageant known to us as the Italian Renaissance, standing at the epicenter of the power games in which Europe’s kings and Italy’s warlords gambled for life-and-death stakes.
Five centuries after their fall—a fall even more sudden than their rise to the heights of power—they remain immutable symbols of the depths to which humanity can descend: Rodrigo Borgia, who bought the papal crown and prostituted the Roman Church; Cesare Borgia, who became first a teenage cardinal and then the most treacherous cutthroat of a violent time; Lucrezia Borgia, who was as shockingly immoral as she was beautiful. These have long been stock figures in the dark chronicle of European villainy, their name synonymous with unspeakable evil.
But did these Borgias of legend actually exist? Grounding his narrative in exhaustive research and drawing from rarely examined key sources, Meyer brings fascinating new insight to the real people within the age-encrusted myth. Equally illuminating is the light he shines on the brilliant circles in which the Borgias moved and the thrilling era they helped to shape, a time of wars and political convulsions that reverberate to the present day, when Western civilization simultaneously wallowed in appalling brutality and soared to extraordinary heights.
Stunning in scope, rich in telling detail, G. J. Meyer’s The Borgias is an indelible work sure to become the new standard on a family and a world that continue to enthrall."
An interesting look at the Borgia family, focusing on the two Borgia popes and Cesare Borgia. The author differentiates between what is available in terms of evidence (usually letters), what is rumour and what Meyer thinks is more plausible in terms of evidence available. The background chapters are a useful tool to discuss a variety of relevant topics without bogging down the main text.
The Conductors was one of those books where the premise was so unique that I immediately wanted to read it, so I was delighted when it turned up on Netgalley and my request was granted. Mostly, it lived up to my expectations, though there were a couple of things about it that didn't quite work for me, perhaps showing that this is a debut novel.
The basic premise of The Conductors is that it's set in the post-Civil War United States, with flashbacks to earlier times, but this is an America with one big difference - the existence of magic, in two different forms. The magic wielded by some slaves, and therefore by freed men and women after the war that is based on the elements - either sigils of the constellations or brewed - as opposed to the wand-based Sorcery restricted to white people. While this is an intriguing way of structuring a magic system, there are clear omissions in the world-building (whether by design or not) especially around how much more effective the elemental magic seems to be.
As well as talking about magic, this is also a murder mystery with a number of dead bodies cropping up along the way. Our protagonists, formerly the eponymous conductors of runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad with the use of magic, find themselves in the middle of this scenario and take on the role of investigators with vigour. Unfortunately, the pacing of the book starts to lag a little in the middle and my interest started to wane a little - again, perhaps, the mark of a first novel?
Everything gets resolved in the end, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, and this seems to be a standalone so there's no nasty cliffhanger for the next book to deal with. All in all, The Conductors is an entertaining read and clearly a labour of love for the author, who has worked hard in terms of her research. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.