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Renaissance Revenge

  • Jul 15, 2010
Mario Puzo (The Godfather, The Family) supposedly fashioned his wily Godfather family after the historical Borgias of the late 15th century and with little wonder. The Borgia family not only regaled much power and wealth in the City States of Italy at that time but commanded a vast army of spies and mercenaries that had little to do with the papacy (of which Papa Rodrigo acquired for himself even though he had fathered children as a cleric and housed a veritable harem of mistresses on his estate) and all to do with being the ultimate puppeteer and mega machinator, rivaling only Don Corleone himself. With Showtime announcing a new miniseries to premier in 2011 featuring the impeccably erudite Jeremy Irons as the future Pope Alexander VI and an equally amazing cast portraying the rest of this formidable family, imagine my delight in reading Sara Poole's "Poison" and wanting more after the manipulating Rodrigo ascends to be the next Shepherd of the Faithful after the, perhaps, untimely demise of Innocent VIII.

Poole's story starts out with a backhanded bang as first-person narrator Francesca Giordano proves to her patron, Rodrigo Borgia that she is equal to the task of inheriting her deceased father's position of poisoner for the family that relies on such things as arsenic, belladonna, tansy and a few other of Mother Nature's botanical nasties to further their drive towards power and prestige. She's a killer and she seethes with the need to revenge her father's death. A delightful mix of ruthlessness, intelligence and conscience, Francesca does not shy away from mixing it up with mental heavyweights and religious fanatics intent on both earthly self-aggrandizement and the need to procure a slot in God's heaven. When she stumbles upon a plot that endangers the Jews living in their quarter in Rome and immigrants escaping the edict of Isabella and Ferdinand expelling all Jews from Spain, she must match wits with not only Spanish Inquisitor Tomas Torquemanda, factions of Pope Innocent VIII's papacy and the Grandmaster Rodrigo himself.

Poole writes with a Renaissance soul. Francesca's frequent self-reference to the state of her soul reminds the present day reader of the great influence the Church and its minions had on shaping the philosophy and of its congregation. Poole creates an atmosphere of nebulous intrigue whether or not the main character is in her bed in the Borgia Complex being wooed by Caesare, skulking about the labyrinth of the Castle Sant'Angelo, prowling the inner sanction of the Vatican or experiencing the misery and claustrophobic conditions of the Ghetto. The language of the character carries the foreboding and fatalism of an age where one could be executed at a moment's notice without the benefit of explanation or alibi. Poole recreates the Rome of the Borgia's with considerable strength of research, knowledge, inclination and above all imagination to make this read a thoroughly enjoyable one. After the final climatic scene, a lull in the narrative dulls what could have been the finer sheen of this overall gem of a historical novel.

Bottom line? Sara Poole's "Poison" folds and unfolds with the enigmatic yet sophisticated simplicity of Japanese origami. Her recreation of the world of the Borgia's reminds us of the fragility of life during this time especially if one harbored ideas that contradicted those of the governing Church. Poole's heroine is as savvy as Mona Lisa's smile, yet she could potentially wheel and deal with today's power mongers without seeming ultra feminist or empowered by any bra-burning vehemence. Francesca knows where she stands and makes good use of her positioning. Adventure, politics and romance endow "Poison" with all the right ingredients to delight any reader of historical fiction. Godfather lovers will feast on the crafty depiction of Rodrigo Borgia and gleefully await Jeremy Irons portrayal on Showtime's "The Borgias." Hopefully Poole's character, although fictional, will make an appearance. If not, this reviewer wants her to consider another adventure for this admirable creation that will lend Francesca's insight to the history of Pope Alexander VI's daughter Lucretia and son Caesare's exploits. Recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #166
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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"[A] stunning debut . . . deftly mixing historical fact and fiction.”—Booklist (starred review)

“The pseudonymous Poole makes a promising debut with this fast-moving historical thriller. . . . Francesca's a genuine firecracker of a heroine, and her dilemma--is it worth her soul to exact justice for her father--plays out in a riveting fashion. Vivid, suspenseful, and capped with an ending that begs a sequel, this is a great first step on the way to the historical fiction A-list.”—Publishers Weekly

“With a unique heroine, a tumultuous historical era, intrigue, suspense, a vibrant backdrop and a nonstop plotline, Poole’s debut delivers a historical mystery to savor.”—Romantic Times (four stars)

“A historical thriller brimming with intrigue, action and enough double-crosses to stump even the most venal of Renaissance Popes . . . a fascinating page turner as delicious and deadly as the poisons brewed up by its heroine.”—Lauren Willig, bestselling author of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation


Poison presents the most unique heroine I have ever seen in a mystery series, (a complex, angst-filled Renaissance Dexter).  But above all, what kept me riveted was the fact the plot is as much a fast-paced thriller as a compelling mystery.  (Although it is a historical, it seems amazingly modern if we substitute Wall Street financiers or national politicians ...

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ISBN-10: 0312609833
ISBN-13: 978-0312609832
Author: Sara Poole
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
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