Thursday, September 19, 2013

Madonna of the Seven Hills (1958)

Madonna of the Seven Hills: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Broadway. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]

What disturbs me most about Madonna of the Seven Hills is that Jean Plaidy bothered listing The Life of Cesare Borgia by Rafael Sabatini in her bibliography. If indeed she read the biography, she chose to disregard it completely. For this novel breaks all of Sabatini's rules. This novel thrives on the LEGENDARY sins of the Borgia family. It builds up this fantastical, sensational notion of what the family was like.  The most sympathetically presented is, of course, Lucrezia.

Two of Plaidy's novels are devoted to Lucrezia Borgia. The second is Light on Lucrezia. This novel tells her story up to the point of her (supposed) mysterious pregnancy following her scandalous divorce. It ends with her learning that the father of the child (supposed father, I should say) has been murdered by her family (presumably Cesare) and so has her maid because she knew too much.

Obviously, Madonna of the Seven Hills is SO MUCH BETTER than a certain romance novel I read in the summer, The Borgia Bride.  (That one was so awful). The characterization might be a bit biased, assuming that Cesare and Rodrigo are always up to no good and almost certainly being immoral or unwise, but it wasn't completely unpleasant either. Cesare comes across as mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Plaidy was perhaps, in her own little way, presenting him as the ultimate swoon-worthy bad boy. So Cesare and Rodrigo though they are presented as murderers and poisoners come across as quite likable at times. I found her presentation of Sanchia to be quite entertaining!

The book was a quick read. I didn't necessarily agree with her conclusions and presentation. But it was entertaining.

She, who had known so many men that she read them easily, was aware of this, and she determined now to make Cesare forget his ambitions in his pursuit of her. They were both experienced, and they would find great pleasure in surprising each other by their accomplishments. Each was aware of this as they danced; and each was asking: Why delay longer? Delay was something which neither of them would tolerate.
"You are all that I heard you were," Sanchia told him.
"You are all that I hoped you would be," he answered her.
"I wondered when you and I would be able to talk together. This is the first time it has happened, and all eyes are on us now."
"They were right," said Cesare, "when they said you were the most beautiful woman in the world."
"They were right when they said there was something terrifying about you."
"Do you find me terrifying?"
She laughed. "No man terrifies me."
"Have they always been so kind?"
"Always," she said. "From the time I was able to talk, men have been kind to me."
"Are you not weary of my sex, since you know it so well?"
"Each man is different from all others. That is what I have found. Perhaps that is why I have always discovered them to be so fascinating. And none that I have ever known has been remotely like you, Cesare Borgia; you stand apart."
"And you like this strangeness in me?"
"So much that I would know it so well that it ceases to be strangeness and is familiar to me."
"What tales have you heard of me?"
"That you are a man who will never take no for an answer, that men fear your frown, and that when you beckon a woman she must obey, in fear if not in desire. I have heard that those who displease you meet ill fortune, that some have been discovered in alleys, suffocated or with knives in their bodies. I have heard that some have drunk wine at your table and have felt themselves to be merely intoxicated, only to learn that they are dying. These are the things I have heard of you, Cesare Borgia. What have you heard of me?"
"That you practice witchcraft so that all men whom you desire fall under your spell, and that having once been your lover none can ever forget you."
"And do you believe these tales of me?"
"And do you believe the tales of me?"
She looked into his eyes and the flame of desire in hers was matched by that in his.
"I do not know," she said, "but I am determined to discover."
"Nor do I know," he answered; "and I think I am as eager to make my discoveries as you are."
His hand tightened on hers.
"Sanchia," he said, "this night?"
And she closed her eyes and nodded. (190-91)
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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