Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance

Written by Sara Poole
Review by Lucille Cormier

Sara Poole, in her new novel, Poison, captures the color and pace of the best contemporary thrillers. With a style similar to James Patterson, the chapters are short and action filled. The plot is tight, each character clearly drawn. Fans of historical fiction will also be pleased with Poison’s factual and tonal accuracy.

The setting is perfect for intrigue: Rome, 1492. This is the era of the Borgias whose machinations and decadence rival those of their imperial forebears. The story revolves around Francesca Giordano, fictional daughter of Rodrigo Borgia’s poisoner. When her father is killed, Francesca takes a bold step and herself poisons his successor. Borgia is duly impressed and gives her the job. She becomes a key component in his scheme to acquire the papacy.

Borgia’s scheme is multi-layered, and ultimately successful as he will, in time, ascend the papal throne as Alexander VI. Through Francesca, we meet his redoubtable offspring, Cesare and Lucrezia, and are led through Rome’s dangerous streets and labyrinthine Jewish ghetto. Along the way a tender relationship develops with a talented glass blower with secrets to hide. However, with Francesca’s discovery of a poison that leaves no traces, the tough-minded young woman engineers the final means and modus operandi for Borgia’s acquisition of the triple tiara. The plan’s execution turns into a series of harrowing adventures reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, with escapades in the Castel San Angelo, the tombs of St. Peter’s basilica, and the crypt of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Poison is a page-turner. It won’t be remembered as a literary work, and its treatment of the Borgias is perhaps too kind, but as a fun read it can’t be beat. Serpent, the second in the series is forthcoming, as well as a third, tentatively titled Malice. I claim first place on the waiting list for both!