For her newest assignment, Francesca must find a discreet way of killing off Cardinal della Rovere, the Borgia pope's main rival. The story is hastened forward by several subplots that seem, at first, to be distractions from the main event.
While Borgia fights to keep Spain as a firm ally against the unruly French, Spain pressures him to break off his daughter Lucrezia's betrothal to Giovanni Sforza of Milan and to banish the Jews from Rome. He doesn't plan to do either. Rumors are spreading about the impending arrival of the fanatical monk from Florence, Savonarola. Amid the political tumult, Francesca refuses to abandon her personal quest: killing the mad priest, Bernando Morozzi, who masterminded her father's death.
Francesca fancies herself an outcast, an unnatural woman who enjoys her job a little too much and doesn't want the darkness inside her to touch anyone else. Although it's true that most people around the Vatican fear her (for good reason), she has more friends than she thinks. Among them are the handsome glassmaker she won't let herself get close to; her fellow members of the Lux, a secret society of free-thinkers; and her lover Cesare Borgia, the pope's son, whose lusts and dark leanings match her own.
Poole's depiction of Cesare is refreshing and suitably complex. Just seventeen in the year 1493, Cesare is more than just a power-hungry, immoral adolescent. He truly cares for Francesca, and their developing relationship – as well as his with his father – will be worth watching in future books.
Francesca's first-person voice has a sarcastic directness that comes as a nice change in an era where one's feelings are best kept hidden. Despite the many tangled strands of the plot, the narrative speeds along smoothly, and the author displays an intimate familiarity with this dangerous time and place. The Borgia Betrayal is second in a series after Poison. It works well as a standalone, although there are enough intriguing references to events from the first book for newcomers to regret not having read it.
The Borgia Betrayal was published by St. Martin's Griffin in June at $14.99 ($16.99 in Canada) in trade paperback (389pp, plus bonus material including an author interview, historical essay, and timeline).
Interested in winning a copy for yourself? I have one up for grabs. To enter, leave a comment on this post. Deadline Friday, September 9th. This contest is open internationally. Good luck!