In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant: A Review
As soon as you begin reading Sarah Dunant's In the Name of the Family, you will be surrounded with stories of the sordid Borgia family and the wisdom and opinions of Machiavelli. Pope Alexander is the family patriarch and he is more concerned with promoting his children's political exploits than protecting the church. Alexander's son, Cesare Borgia, attempts to take all of Italy for himself while battling the "French pox". After Cesare kills her second husband, Lucrezia marries her third husband, Alfonso d'Este, and is tasked with quickly producing an heir to protect her new husband's city, Ferrara, and consolidate her family's political holdings.
The characters in this book are based on true characters and Dunant attempts to keep as much as possible to the true legends of these historical people. They are deliciously evil and I read with as much glee as horror at the murderous and manipulative ways of the family that will stop at nothing to conquer as much of Europe as they can. They are the most power hungry of power hungry royals. Cesare takes special delight in caring out royal murders himself. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about him when he advised for Borgia and contemporaries compare him to tyrants. Cesare likely inherited his temper from his father as Pope Alexander's curses in Spanish can be heard throughout the Vatican (an added bonus from this book is the humorous way in which the royals curse- "God's bullocks!", "God's blood!"). That is not to say that Pope Alexander is unfeeling, though. He regularly cries over his murdered son, Juan, and spends much time thinking up ways to enact vengeance on behalf of him. Lucrezia is no delicate, naive wife. When her father-in-law attempts to weasel out of the conditions of her marriage contract, she makes is known that she is not to be trifled with. She also spends much time studying poetry and occasionally seeks the freedom from marriage obligations in a convent. The characters are many, complex and incredibly interesting.
At 448 pages, this historical novel is on the longer side. At times, it can seem a bit too long. There are just a few too many stories going on at one time. I would have preferred to have more of the story of the relationship between Lucrezia and Alfonso d'Este or of Cesare Borgia's exploits than to also include the family happenings of Niccolo Machiavelli. I felt that the stories of Machiavelli and his wife were a bit superfluous and would prefer that Machiavelli's character remain firmly as a supporting character. The book can read a bit slow, at times. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, though. I felt myself enjoying the stories and was very interested in reading more from Dunant. The writing was fluid and felt contemporary, as opposed to ancient. I thought this was a great book for historical fiction readers and would recommend it highly. It was very unique and a novel about a family that is fascinating and will forever feel relevant.
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