The New Title Tuesday recommendation this week, In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant, is proof that we love nothing more than sweeping sagas of the rich and powerful regardless of the time period.  Plus, it’s hard to stop reading the inner thoughts of the fictionalized Niccolo Machiavelli in the Prologue: “The gap between the ideal and the reality of politics is enough to give most men vertigo.”  Or, the character’s chilling observation: “As the last chimes die away, a series of contorted male shrieks rise up from somewhere nearby; a late coupling between the sheets or a few early knife thrusts into a belly?  He smiles.  Such are the sounds of his beloved city, the sounds indeed of the whole of Italy.”

1 In thePublisher Summary: The year is 1502 and the speed and ferocity of their success is dazzling. Pope Alexander VI – Rodrigo – is openly using his illegitimate children to carve a new dynastic power block in Italy. His son Cesare, once a cardinal, now commands a mercenary army, taking for himself city-states historically owned by the church, while Lucrezia, his beloved, scandal-soaked daughter, is the family’s prize marriage pawn.

Everywhere men bemoan their audacity, brutality and threat, but Niccolo, an avid student of power and human nature, is captivated and as the stakes rise his growing relationship with Cesare Borgia will lay the foundations for his masterpiece, The Prince.

Meanwhile in Rome, the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasing maverick behaviour while Lucrezia, now Duchess of Ferrara, takes her fortune into her own hands.  Having learned from bitter experience the dangers of unguarded love, she will become the Borgia survivor:  confounding her enemies and creating her own place in history.

In Dunant’s hands, the sights, scents, and diseases of the Borgias’ Renaissance come vividly to life.  Given that In the Name of the Family is not her first deeply researched novel about the Borgias and Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, it is no surprise that the author has an intimate knowledge of the era – its celebrities (Leonardo da Vinci, composer Josquin des Prez, and poet Ercole Strozzi) and customs.

In her review of In the Name of the Family for the Washington Post Diana Gabaldon writes, “The most important detail is a silent presence that winds its grisly way through the story: the French pox, fulminant syphilis. Sometimes dormant, sometimes virulent, it makes its own mark on history, maiming soldiers and politicians, whores and princes, killing children in the womb, its nature unbeknown to its victims.  In the end, what’s a historical novelist’s obligation to the dead? Accuracy? Empathy? Justice? Or is it only to make them live again? Dunant pays these debts with a passion that makes me want to go straight  out and read all her other books.”

Who am I to argue with Gabaldon, the author of The Outlander Series?  If you have an interest in escaping to a time in history that makes today’s political stories seem tame by comparison, then you’ll enjoy In the Name of the Family.

Happy Reading!  Susan C.

Also by Dunant:

1 Blood


Blood  & Beauty : the Borgias By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed. Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.


1 Sacred

Sacred Hearts [electronic resource]   The year is 1570, and in the convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrara, noblewomen find space to pursue their lives under God’s protection. But any community, however smoothly run, suffers tremors when it takes in someone by force. The sixteen-year-old daughter of a noble family from Milan, Serafin a is willful, emotional, sharp, and defiant-young enough to have a life to look forward to and old enough to know when that life is being cut short. Her first night inside the walls is spent in an incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is dispatched to the girl’s cell to sedate her. As Serafina rails against her incarceration, others are drawn into the drama: the ancient, mysterious Suora Magdalena; the ferociously devout novice mistress Suora Umiliana, and, watching it all, the abbess, Madonna Chiara, a woman as fluent in politics as she is in prayer. As disorder and rebellion mount, it is the abbess’s job to keep the convent stable while, outside its walls, the dictates of the Counter-Reformation begin to purge the Catholic Church and impose on the nunneries a regime of oppression.


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