A big shout-out to Aviva for sending this book my way during book exchange!
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Francesca Giordano is a woman who needs a job after her father is brutally murdered in the street (don’t worry, you find this out in the first chapter), and she gets herself employed with the very prestigious, inherently corrupt Borgia family.
Her employment soon has her on a wild ride through the world of Rome’s political and theological corruption as she follows Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia on his quest to win the papacy.
One of Aviva’s reasons for sending me this book was that it’s a woman starring in what would typically be a man’s role both historically and from a literary perspective. The story is told in first person POV, and Poole’s choice to use a woman instead of a man in a historical setting where women had no power is a daring and striking move that works well for this novel.
While I felt that Poole’s craft was not as polished as it could have been, and there were definitely places where I was being told about the plot instead of experiencing it, Poole’s research is solid, and I really enjoyed learning about 1400s Rome and the absolutely overwhelming corruption of the Vatican and the Catholic faith during that time.
There were neat little asides like Francesca looking up in the Sistine Chapel and the ceiling being blank because Michelangelo hasn’t been commissioned to paint it yet, or the interesting side plot about the fate of the Jews in Europe due to the Spanish Inquisition, as well as hints to what actually happened to the historical figures Francesca meets along the way.
One of Poole’s greatest attributes in this story is tying together a lot of significant historical events and putting them in a global context that really grows the world and makes it believable.