The Serpent and the Pearl

Written by Kate Quinn
Review by Ann Pedtke

Admittedly, when I heard that Kate Quinn’s latest novel was set not in the classical world but rather in Renaissance Italy, I was a bit disappointed. However, that sentiment was short-lived, as The Serpent and the Pearl exerted just as strong a hold as Quinn’s earlier novels – subjecting me to a sucker punch in the stomach when I turned the last page and realized that I would have to wait for the next installment to see the characters escape their predicaments.

Carmelina is on the run from a shadowy past – but she has two things to stand her in good stead: her stock of recipes, and the favor of Santa Marta, patron saint of cooks. When Carmelina comes to Rome, she takes a gamble on a disastrous wedding feast and finds herself working in the powerful household of Rodrigo Borgia.

Giulia Farnese, the acknowledged beauty of Rome, is confident of what life has in store for her: she will marry well, bear noble children, and spend her days in luxury. But on her wedding night Giulia discovers that she is destined for something quite different. She, too, is caught in the web of the powerful Borgias.

Leonello has adopted biting cynicism to shield him from the abuse directed at a dwarf on the streets of Rome. But when he is offered the opportunity to serve as an unlikely bodyguard to the Borgia family, he finds himself entangled not just with dangerous politics but also with people he might just begin to care about.

These three compelling characters weave a tangled trajectory through the life and politics of 15th-century Rome. Carmelina’s sharp tongue, Leonello’s caustic wit, and Giulia’s unconditional good humor in the face of danger play off each other beautifully to create another riveting novel from Kate Quinn.