For Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of a Roman Cardinal and his beloved mistress, life changes for the worse when her father is elevated to St. Peter’s throne. Her mother abandoned to her own fate, the beautiful Lucrezia grows up amidst a gaggle of corrupt Vatican officials, of whom her father Roderigo (now Pope Alexander) and her cruel brother Cesare are the most rotten of all. Married off multiple times for political gain, she sees her husbands tossed aside just as easily when her family no longer finds them appropriate. Lucrezia herself is no shrinking violet, never losing her coarse sense of humor and always giving as good as she gets. Still, she’s blind to the evil schemes of her brother and father, even abetting them on several occasions–that is, until she realizes how her own self has been lost in her desire to please her family.
Faunce’s prose is ardently descriptive yet often unsettling. Through Lucrezia’s eyes, we are given a firsthand glimpse into the decadence and, indeed, the evil that hid behind the gilded splendor of Renaissance Italy. He deals successfully with the nasty rumors that have surrounded Lucrezia through the ages: incest with her brother, murder of two husbands, and poisoning of her father’s enemies (and in Faunce’s version, only one of these is true). Though it is long in coming, by novel’s end, this strong-willed Lucrezia–simply by learning how to survive in this cruel world–had finally earned our admiration in addition to our sympathy.