The Borgia Bride is not a romance novel. If you expect it to be strictly a "romance novel", you may be shocked at how unromantic it is. If you're reading it because you love history, you may also be disappointed, because of the way Kalogridis has decided to interpret history--or "the facts" as she sees them. (I think she was going for shock.) If you are looking for a book with well-rounded characters, look elsewhere.
The novel is set in Renaissance Italy, roughly around 1492-1503. The heroine of the novel is Sancha of Aragon, the wife of Jofre Borgia. It was an arranged marriage, as many were at the time. The trouble for Sancha truly begins when the couple goes to Rome to live with the rest of the Borgia family. It is then that Sancha meets her father-in-law (Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI), her sister-in-law, Lucrezia, and her brother-in-law Cesare. The author has Sancha falling into instant love (or should that be lust?) with Cesare. This is perhaps helped along by the fact that Cesare "saves" her from being raped by her father-in-law. The two speak the next day, and when he apologizes for wanting to seduce her himself, she confesses that she wouldn't mind--she loves him so it would be different. But Sancha though an adulteress soon realizes that the Borgia family is way too immoral for her to ever belong. She discovers the sick, disturbing secrets of the family; if the family learns that she knows these secrets, well, it wouldn't be pretty. For Sancha realizes that Cesare may be oh-so-dreamy and have a voice like velvet (the book does say that, his voice and manners were like velvet), but he is a murderer; he is cold, calculating, selfish. She's brave enough to end the relationship, but, she still remains trapped in this horribly dysfunctional family. Over half the novel is about Sancha gaining the strength and perhaps stealth needed to defeat evil and make a stand for justice.
The Borgia Bride definitely has adult content. It is historical fiction. Its focus is on the outrageous, scandalous, reprehensible behavior of the Borgia family. I'm not sure how much of this is based on actual historical evidence--not historical allegations, because allegations are sometimes known to be questionable or controversial or completely false. The Borgias as depicted by Kalogridis are evil through and through with absolutely no good to them at all. The father, the sons, the daughter. They are not a little bad, a little dangerous--they are pure evil. Cesare is not a Byronic hero; he's the devil. There is absolutely no character depth in this novel. Villains can be exciting or fascinating. (Would Alias be the same without Arvin Sloane? Would Once Upon A Time be the same without Regina or Mr. Gold? There has to be substance even to villains for the story to work.)
The Borgia Bride's biggest weakness is it is almost impossible to truly care about any of the characters.
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews