Blood and Beauty (Dunant)

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias
Sarah Dunant, 2013
Random House
528 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400069293

With an exceptional talent for breathing life into history, Sarah Dunant turns her discerning eye to one of the world’s most intriguing and infamous families—the Borgias—in an engrossing work of literary fiction.

By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church.

When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.
Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—August 8, 1950
Where—London, England, UK
Education—B.A., Cambridge University
Awards—Silver Dagger Award for Crime Fiction
Currently—lives in London, England

Sarah Dunant is a writer, broadcaster and critic. She was a founding vice patron of the Orange Prize for women's fiction, sits on the editorial board of the Royal Academy magazine, and reviews for the Times, Guardian, and Independent on Sunday. She teaches creative writing at The Faber Academy in London and biennially at Washington University in St. Louis in its Renaissance studies course. She is also a creative writing fellow at Oxford Brookes University. She has two daughters and lives in London and Florence.

Early career
Dunant was born in London. She attended Godolphin and Latymer School and studied history at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she was heavily involved in theatre and the Footlights review. After a brief spell working for the BBC she spent much of her twenties traveling (Japan, India, Asia and Central and South America) before starting to write. Her first two novels, along with a BBC television series, were written with a friend. After this she went solo.

Since then she has written ten novels, three screenplays and edited two books of essays. She has worked in television and radio as a producer and presenter: most notably for BBC Television where for seven years (1989–1996) she presented the live nightly culture programme The Late Show. After that she presented the BBC Radio 3 radio programme Night Waves.

Dunant's work ranges over a number of genres and eras. Her narratives are hard to categorise due to their inventive treatment of time and space, and a favoured device of hers is to run two or more plot strands concurrently, as she does in Mapping the Edge. A common concern running through her work is women's perceptions and points of view, with other themes included.

Her first eight novels were broadly written within a thriller form. Their setting was contemporary and allowed her to explore such themes such as the drug trade, surrogacy, terrorism, animals rights, cosmetic surgery and sexual violence.

Then in 2000 an extended visit to Florence rekindled her first love: History. The novels which followed—The Birth of Venus (2003), In the Company of the Courtesan (2006), and Sacred Hearts (2009) were extensively researched historical explorations of what it was like to be a woman within the Italian Renaissance. The trilogy looked at marriage, the culture of courtesans and the life of cloistered nuns. They were all international best sellers and were translated into over 30 languages.

Her 2013 novel Blood & Beauty centers on a depiction of Italy's Borgia dynasty. It sets out to offer a historically accurate vision of a family who have been much maligned by history. Dunant states in her afterword that she plans to write a second, concluding novel, about the family. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/22/2013.)

Book Reviews
In Blood & Beauty, Dunant follows the path set by Hilary Mantel with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Just as Mantel humanized and, to an extent, rehabilitated the brilliant, villainous Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Dunant transforms the blackhearted Borgias and the conniving courtiers and cardinals of Renaissance Europe into fully rounded characters, brimming with life and lust.... Dunant illuminates the darkened narrative of the Borgia record, reviving stained glass with fresh light, refreshing the brilliance of the gold and blue panes history has marred without dulling the blood-red that glows everywhere around them.”
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times Book Review

[Dunant’s] depiction of passionate people obsessed by the idea of a dynasty that will outlive them is not only intelligent and restrained but also lit by an affecting streak of lyricism. . . . Like Hilary Mantel with her Cromwell trilogy, Dunant has scaled new heights by refashioning mythic figures according to contemporary literary taste. This intellectually satisfying historical saga, which offers blood and beauty certainly, but brains too, is surely the best thing she has done to date.”
Miami Herald

Hugely old-fashioned rollercoaster of a story.... [Dunant] triumphs, like all good a deft, shrewd, precise use of killer detail.
Guardian (UK)

[Dunant] is in her element.... She brings fifteenth-century Italian cities vividly alive.... [Blood & Beauty] is an intelligent and passionate book that will no doubt thrill Borgia-lovers.”
Sunday Times (UK)

British author Sarah Dunant is the reigning queen of the historical novel set in Renaissance Italy.... This novel will be most rewarding for those with a keen taste for history and a willingness to stick with a lengthy story with no real heroes but plenty of fascinating and really bad behavior.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Another achievement for Dunant is her ability to re-imagine history. Although the Borgias are often called the most notorious family in Italian Renaissance . . . Dunant manages to show different facets of their personalities. If history has left some blanks in this regard, Dunant fills them. The members of this close-knit family emerge as dynamic characters, flawed but sympathetic, filled with fear and longing, and believable.”
Seattle Times

A brilliant portrait of a family whose blood runs ‘thick with ambition and determination’ . . . The Machiavellian atmosphere—hedonism, lust, political intrigue—is magnetic. With so much drama, readers won’t want the era of Borgia rule to end. (Four stars.)"

Holt, the fictional Colorado town where all of Haruf’s novels are set, longtime resident Dad Lewis is dying of cancer. Happily married (he calls his wife “his luck”), Dad spends his last weeks thinking over his life, particularly an incident that ended badly with a clerk in his store, and his relationship with his estranged son. As his wife and daughter care for him, life goes on: one
Publishers Weekly

Perfect for readers who love danger, romance and lots of palace intrigue, Blood & Beauty is a triumph on an epic scale. Dunant takes us deep into this gorgeous but often deadly world, and we never want to leave.

[A] highly dramatic period in papal, Italian, and even European history as the Borgia family—the pope and his bastard children, two sons and one daughter, unhidden as such—extend their influence well beyond the confines of ecclesiastical matters.... For those who find Hilary Mantel’s brilliant Tudor novels too deep and demanding, Dunant offers less rigorous, more comfortable historical fiction. —Brad Hooper

(Starred review.) The big, bad Borgia dynasty undergoes modern reconsideration in [Sarah Dunant’s] epic new biofiction.... Dunant’s biggest and best work to date, this intelligently readable account of formative events and monster players has Hilary Mantel–era quality best-seller stamped all over it.
Kirkus Reviews

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