NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE TIMES (UK) "In the end, what's a historical novelist's obligation to the dead? Read more...
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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE TIMES (UK) "In the end, what's a historical novelist's obligation to the dead? Accuracy? Empathy? Justice? Or is it only to make them live again? Dunant pays these debts with a passion that makes me want to go straight out and read all her other books."--Diana Gabaldon, The Washington Post 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 Niccolo 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. "Enthralling . . . combines flawless historical scholarship with beguiling storytelling."--The Guardian "Renaissance-rich details fill out the humanity of the Borgias, rendering them into the kind of relatable figures whom we would hope to discover behind the cold brilliance of The Prince."--NPR " Dunant] has an enviable command of this complex political scene, with its shifting alliances and subtle betrayals. . . . She] has a special gift for attending to her female characters."--The New York Times
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-02-06
- Reviewer: Staff
Renaissance doyenne Dunant (Blood and Beauty) turns her sights once again on the Borgia family. Pope Alexander VI is firmly entrenched in his powerful position, consumed with revenge against his enemies. His ambitious son, Cesarewith access to the church coffersis spurred to take over more and more of Italys city-states, no matter the cost in money or lives, and his daughter, Lucrezia, a pawn in the power-hungry plans of her family, makes her own mark on 16th-century Italy. As the Borgia clan extends its reach, whether through bloody confrontations or cunning behind-the-scenes maneuvering, historian and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli has a front-row seat for the various machinations, observing their stunning moves while advising his superiors in Florence how to deal with the changing political climes. Although the author occasionally gets caught up in some of the distracting internecine workings of factions against the pope (their opponents were many), Dunant is at her best focusing on the three Borgias, especially the conflicts between Cesare and his father as both gain in power and stature, and most particularly on the life of Lucrezia, forced into different marriages for political benefit, nearly dying from a debilitating flu, and finally coming to terms with the enigmatic Alfonso, son of the duke of Ferrara and her third husband, with whom she ensures the future of a powerful dynasty. (Mar.)
Power, politics and conspiracy
Lies, corruption, treachery, lust, infidelity, greed—all the elements present in Sarah Dunant’s bestselling novels set in the tumultuous years of the Italian Renaissance are somehow magnified in her latest, the continuation of her astute dissection of the lives of the Borgia family, which she began with 2014’s Blood and Beauty.
It’s the winter of 1501-1502 when In the Name of the Family opens: Rodrigo Borgia is firmly ensconced in the Vatican as Pope Alexander VI, who openly “uses his illegitimate children as weapons to carve a new dynastic block of power.” Cesare, his eldest son, is systematically directing his army of mercenaries in their march northward as they overtake the small city-states of Tuscany, breaking long-standing alliances and killing at will those he once supported. His sister Lucrezia is traveling north to Ferrara to marry Alfonso d’Este, the son of the Duke of Ferrara—a marriage forged merely to solidify Borgia dominance in Tuscany, where Cesare’s ultimate goal is the acquisition of Florence itself.
Characters surrounding this Borgia triumvirate include Niccolò Machiavelli, who is appointed Undersecretary to Florence’s Council, and serves as envoy to Rome. He’s portrayed by Dunant as a thoughtful observer of the political maneuvers made by Cesare and the pope—observations thought to lead to his signature work, The Prince, completed in 1513 after both of his subjects have died. Machiavelli is witness to many of Cesare’s “thuggish acts,” but also perceives his virtue, “that shimmering slippery work that mixes strength, vitality and skill in equal measures.”
Lucrezia, too, is given sympathetic treatment by Dunant, who focuses on her manipulation by her father and brother, leading to three arranged marriages by the time she turns 22. The pressure on her to bear male heirs is a constant source of worry, complicated by the ever-present threat of disease and the dangers of childbirth.
Dunant’s meticulously researched portrayal of these iconic characters and the violent, conspiracy-filled times in which they lived is a captivating piece of historical fiction. Both entertaining and enlightening, it’s sure to be welcomed by her many readers.