I got interested in Lucrezia Borgia after watching most of the series “Borgia” and reading Sarah Dunant’s novel Blood and Beauty. Although C.W. Gortner’s novel makes some different choices in interpreting various events around the controversial Borgia family, the picture of Lucrezia that emerges from all these tellings is similar: an initially innocent and naive young woman who, because her father is the Pope, finds herself in the centre of a complex web of intrigue. As she is bartered on the marriage market with little concern for how she feels about any of her potential (or actual) husbands, and as her family’s fortunes rise and fall, Lucrezia finds she has to become a bit of a politician herself to survive.
I would have liked it if this novel had given more time and attention to Lucrezia’s later life, which I find fascinating but which is seldom addressed in fiction. Her early life and first two marriages (one ending in annulment after four years, the other ending after only two years in the highly suspicious death of her husband after he became a political liability to the Borgias) were very turbulent, and along with the events surrounding her father and brothers, this is the usual terrain writers seem to focus on with Lucrezia. However, she was married at 22 to her third husband and the marriage seems to have been relatively happy (if not faithful on either side); she and Alfonso d’Este had eight children together, ran their duchy, and survived the fall of the Borgias. Lucrezia died at 39, so nearly half her life was spent as Alfonso’s duchess, and this period seems like it would be a fascinating field for fiction. However, C.W. Gortner ends his very engaging and readable novel at the midpoint of Lucrezia’s life. I want to read the rest of the story, and hope that someone will write it.