The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo
During the sweltering Roman summer of 1492, Rodrigo Borgia has risen to power as pope. Rodrigo’s eldest son Cesare, forced to follow his father into the church and newly made the Archbishop of Valencia, chafes at his ecclesiastical role and fumes with jealousy and resentment at the way that his foolish brother has been chosen for the military greatness he desired. Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside, where she has seen how the whims of powerful men wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people. But now, employed as a servant in the Vatican Palace, she cannot help but be entranced by Cesare Borgia’s handsome face and manner and finds her faith and conviction crumbling in her want of him. As war rages and shifting alliances challenge the pope’s authority, Maddalena and Cesare’s lives grow inexplicably entwined. Maddalena becomes a keeper of dangerous Borgia secrets, and must decide if she is willing to be a pawn in the power games of the man she loves. And as jealousy and betrayal threaten to tear apart the Borgia family from within, Cesare is forced to reckon with his seemingly limitless ambition. Alyssa Palombo’s captivating new novel, The Borgia Confessions, is a story of passion, politics, and class, set against the rise and fall of one of Italy’s most infamous families – the Borgias.
Review by Tanya Kaanta
The Borgia Confessions sweeps us into the world of 1492, where religion and politics are inextricably linked, and power emanates from the church. We glimpse an imagined story based on historical facts. Of how Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope and uses his illegitimate children as pawns in his quest for more dominance and power. Told from two points of view, that of a country maiden servant, Maddalena, and Cesare, Rodrigo’s eldest son, we witness the conspiracy, intrigue, deceit, love, and all the emotions in between as the author catapults the reader into the heart of this unstable time.
Though Cesare would rather join the military, Rodrigo ensures Cesare’s immediate role is linked to the church, as he is made a cardinal just out of boyhood. His other siblings are carefully placed in positions that strengthen Rodrigo’s position of power. Marriage being a prop to ensure alliances.
While Rodrigo recognizes the cunning mind Cesare possesses, this Pope doesn’t always hold Cesare’s council. Despite his role as Cardinal, Cesare is very much still a pawn in his father’s power play. Yet as he gains more insight, he begins formulating his own wants and desires, while still playing his father’s game.
Through Cesare’s eyes, the reader unravels the pieces his father wields. As his decisions and actions don’t always align with his father’s, we are able to appreciate the layers and complexity of Cesare, and what truly drives him as a man and as a politician. In some regards he is noble and respectful of women and his family. Yet in another vein, he is vengeful, deceitful, and not afraid to use violence when it will progress his agenda. I want to unfailingly like Cesare but it’s not so easy. For him to survive in this world and progress his ambitions, he must engage in questionable acts.
Maddalena, a fictitious character created by Palombo, also plays a crucial role in fleshing out the Borgia family. In her role as servant, she navigates the varying demands placed upon her by her peers, her mistress, and Cesare. In so doing, as she entangles herself with the family, she learns of secrets that can ultimately hurt herself and those around her.
What I love about this book is how no one is perfect. All of the characters seem to shape power in ways that mold their desires, yet also make up for deficits they perhaps lack. There is no shining knight, nor is there anyone who is without any redeeming qualities. Their choices are not always clear as to whether the ramifications are for good, nefarious reasons, or because it must be so, without any reference to goodness or badness. And who do the decisions support? And why? Moreover, the historical references to events make the story even more compelling as much of the plot happened in real life. The fictional aspects only add color to the story, presenting a potential what if it happened like this?
Beautifully written, The Borgia Confessions will not disappoint the curious reader. One need not be a die-hard historical fiction fan to appreciate the well-woven plot, character development, and lush descriptions. I highly recommend.
ALYSSA PALOMBO is the author of The Violinist of Venice, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. When not writing, she can be found reading, hanging out with her friends, traveling, or planning for next Halloween. She lives in Buffalo, New York, where she is always at work on a new novel.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the gifted copy to review. Thank you to Tanya Kaanta for reviewing for us today.
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