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Carpe Librum

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Review: The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn

The Serpent and the Pearl - Kate Quinn

I almost didn't read this book. I looked at some reviews and noticed a few things: 1)it switches character points of view 2)one of said characters is a dwarf 3)another is a cook who talks about food preparation/smells a lot. It really didn't sound like my kind of thing, but then I won the sequel "The Lion and the Rose" in a Goodreads giveaway so my Borgia journey began.

All three of the things stated above are true about this book, but I found that the author handled all three of these aspects that could have been irritating or eye-roll inducing with considerable skill. I enjoyed the different character perspectives. Leonello the dwarf is not a stereotypical jester but a witty bodyguard who you dare not ask to juggle. Carmelina is obsessive about the food that she prepares for Giulia Farnese, but I could appreciate the sights and sounds of her kitchen rather than being bored with them.

This novel begins with Giulia's marriage to Orsino Orsini, which coincides with her being claimed by, then Cardinal, Rodrigo Borgia. Giulia is immature, vain, and flighty but as she experiences the life of a mistress too high for the low-born and too low for the high-born she also becomes a thoughtful, kind, and devoted friend. I enjoyed watching her character evolve through this novel, which ends with her risking all to save those closest to her. Rarely have I been so glad to have the next in the series close at hand.

I can not leave this review without a discussion of the notorious Borgias who are skillfully personified in this novel. Rodrigo is an overbearing seducer, but he also refuses to hide it in hypocrisy like his predecessors. Juan is a spoiled brat, who is thankfully sent away to service his Spanish bride. Lucrezia is doted upon, educated, and married well, but still feels that she lives in Giulia's shadow. And Cesare . . . he is ambitious, creepy, menacing . . . and still somehow sexy. I blame Francios Arnaud.

Other things I would thank the author for - no vulgar sex scenes and author's note. Let's admit it, a novel about the Borgias would be easy to just make into pages of smut. Sex in this book is hinted at or gossiped about but not described at length. The author's note helpfully points out where the story has strayed from known history, which I appreciated, not having in-depth knowledge of the Borgia family.

It ends with a lot up in the air - make sure you have the sequel ready!