Review of "The Borgia Confessions" by Alyssa Palombo

Palombo, Alyssa. The Borgia Confessions. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2020.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250191205 | 432 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I received an ARC through a Goodreads Giveaway, and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.

I didn’t know much beyond the myths about the Borgia family prior to picking up The Borgia Confessions, but I was glad to have the opportunity to read this book after enjoying Alyssa Palombo’s previous release, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, which I also got through a GR Giveaway. And I enjoyed this one just as much, if not more.

Palombo’s depiction of Cesare is a great example of the difference between a “likable” protagonist and a “sympathetic” one. Cesare, like others in his family, and, as Palombo’s author’s note points out, many families during the Renaissance, is concerned with both self-preservation and consolidation of power, while also indulging in the vices that the position affords him. So, while I don’t agree with many of his choices, it’s easy to understand many of them when put into a historical context, and the more brutal ones you can’t justify in that way, like his actions where his brother Juan are concerned, can be justified on a more human level.

I enjoyed the contrast of Maddalena’s character and the life she had as a servant with little power. However, even with her station, I did like the contrast between her early encounter with Juan (Giovanni), which is reminiscent of the horror stories you hear when it comes to power imbalances between the nobility and those in service and the more blurred lines of the relationship that develops in the romance between Cesare and Maddalena, where, while he clearly goes to extreme lengths to achieve his ambitions, he treats her with love, respects her boundaries, and even entrusts her with important work related to advancing the family’s position at one point.

It’s also interesting to get more insight into Lucrezia, as she’s the one who is the most maligned in my opinion, as historical women often are. I loved seeing her through both Cesare’s and Maddalena’s eyes, as someone who, like the others in her family, did seek out passion in the wrong places at times, but was far from the malicious poisoner that she’s been made out to be, but rather a very dutiful daughter and sister, and generous mistress to her servants.

This is a delightfully rich and passionate historical novel about an incredibly scandalous historical family that I think gives some of the key players a more nuanced portrayal. I recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction.

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