Review: The Vatican Princess, A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner

02_The Vatican Princess


I’m back with a review for one of the easiest authors for me to pen one for, C.W. Gortner. Once you’ve read most of Gortner’s books, what more can you say about the man as a writer? He’s flawless to me. He inspires me to write better and faster. He’s the high standards goods to me and his beautiful novels always sweep me away to another time and place. The Vatican Princess offered me no less.

I haven’t read many Borgia-themed books (a few excellent ones by Kate Quinn) or watched the shows that have been popular on TV. It hasn’t always been one of the my major sub-sets of the historical fiction genre that I run toward, even though many do, so besides reading Machiavelli’s The Prince in my university history studies and knowing they were an inspiration for that book, I’m not rich of the mind in regards to this family.

However, I was still excited for Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia simply because Gortner wrote it and I knew it would be a book I could settle into that would provide me an escape from reality. From the minute I started reading it, I was absorbed into the story and a few hours over the course of a couple days the book had life ceasing to exist outside of it. Captivating prose, elegant sentences that rolled off my proverbial tongue in my silent mind, flowing plot, and exquisite character and emotional development, it is easy to remember why Gortner is the best historical fiction author of our modern times.

Gortner makes you forget about all the research he’s done, because he so finely tucks it into the pages of his intricately laid out storyline. He never adds filler, never lulls to catch the reader up with history, but still you feel as if you lived and breathed the time period, that you know each character intimately. Really, the essence of the book isn’t to learn anyway, it’s to enjoy a story and I certainly did.

I can’t offer any nitpick on the historical aspects of it, and I didn’t read it as a content editor, but for enjoyment. There is already so much discourse in the historical community on what is accurate or not in relation to the Borgias, and I’m not versed enough in this history subset so I can’t speak from that point of view. I didn’t really want to fact check everything either as most people shopping for it on shelves won’t do either I’d imagine, but I did feel it showed that he strived for as accurate a story as he could tell in order to present Lucrezia to us in this light and stick to his plot. From the standpoint of being a fantastically fun read, Gortner’s book certainly succeeded. Not all historical fiction needs to be accurate, they are in fact, supposed to be enjoyable fiction, so either way, I was immersed in the story.He added all the proper elements in addition to his character development, such as suspense, drama, and action nearer the end, giving us a good build up and showcasing the political environment. I enjoyed, as usual, his descriptions and details, his use of animals throughout, and the way he adheres to all our five senses while we are reading.

Gortner’s portrayal of Lucrezia gave us a bird’s eye view into her coming-of-age and showcased her ascent to courage and fortitude. Beaten down by life and the men in her family that surrounded her, I was happy to see him write her as a survivor. Not easy to write  a novel from one character’s main point of view, but Gortner does it masterfully and with such grace that you truly feel and sympathize and cheer for Lucrezia to overcome her surroundings.

Of course, when you start a novel early in a character’s life, you can’t end it with their life when there is too much story to tell. Maybe he didn’t need to though, as his plot was really about giving the reader a different look into why Lucrezia was the way she was (we already know and can read about her as an adult later in life), or you know, allowing us to “step inside her shoes and see through her eyes.” It gave us pause to consider the rest of the research we’ve read or heard, and possibly, to research and read more on our own. What legacy more can an author give but to encourage people to read more history?

If you are looking for another historical fiction read to relax with over your weekend, pour a glass of wine and pick up The Vatican Princess. Gortner never fails to deliver eloquent, delicious writing that makes you become vividly lost in your own head. Highly recommended for readers of any lover of historical intrigue, drama, and secrets. He consistently proves why he is one of my favorite authors.

The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner

02_The Vatican PrincessPublication Date: February 9, 2016 Ballantine Books Hardcover, Ebook, Audiobook
400 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood. It is the price of being a Borgia.

Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias fascinated and terrorized 15th-century Renaissance Italy. Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, was at the center of the dynasty’s ambitions. Slandered as a heartless seductress who lured men to their doom, was she in fact the villainess of legend, or was she trapped in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and survival?

With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—assume an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: Alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, he’s obliged to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.

Beautifully wrought, rich with fascinating historical detail, The Vatican Princess is the first novel to describe Lucrezia’s coming-of-age in her own voice—a dramatic, vivid tale set in an era of savagery and unparalleled splendor, where enemies and allies can be one and the same, and where loyalty to family can ultimately be a curse.



“Assiduously researched and expertly crafted . . . . This unholy plunge into Rome’s darkest dynasty is wholly engrossing.” – Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author

“A spider web of Renaissance intrigue with a legendary cast . . . Impressive research, a lush background, and deft characterization make for a fascinating read.” – Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author

“Elegantly written and deeply researched . . . Renaissance Italy is vividly brought to life. I’m captivated by this knowledgeable author’s take on the controversial Borgias.” – Alison Weir, NYT bestselling author

Author C.W. Gortner, Biography

03_CW GortnerC.W. GORTNER holds a MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.

Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.

For more information visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twittter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and YouTube. Sign up for C.W. Gortner’s Newsletter for updates.

Tour Schedule:

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Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @cwgortner @ penguinrandom

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