Blurb from the back "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 in 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 to succeed.
His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest - though increasingly unstable - weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli's The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: 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."
This is the fourth of Sarah Dunant's novels set in Renaissance Italy and I have to admit that it lacks some of the drive that powered the other three; they were largely written from a female perspective and this one has a much broader viewpoint which makes it lose a little; That said, once you get into the story you're completely gripped.
In many ways I think this can be compared to Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Like them this novel takes characters who have been previously popularly demonised, Pope Alexander, Cesare Borgia and Lucretzia who has always had as bad a press as Salome, and presents them as human beings, with their failings and virtues. Though to be honest Cesare doesn't have many virtues, but he is completely three dimensional and fascinating in his utterly cold sweeping away of all that comes in his way. Also like Hilary Mantel Sarah Dunant writes in the present tense which can be infuriating in lesser hands but works perfectly here
I finished this book feeling bereft that I'd had to leave its world and it would be a five starrer if it had been a bit faster to get in to, even so I'd recommend it to anyone who likes quality historical fiction.