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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Poison

Poison: A Novel of the RenaissanceTitle: Poison
Author: Sara Poole
Page Count: 416 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffith
Genre: historical fiction
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: After her father, court poisoner to the Borgia family, is murdered in the street, Francesca Giordano steps up to take his place.  In her quest to avenge her father's murder, she has to keep the Borgia family safe in the quest to make Cardinal Borgia pope, foil an attempt at genocide, and keep her own soul safe in the process.

Today brings a double shot of reviews of books I read during the read-a-thon a couple of weekends ago from vastly different genres.  Up first is Poison, a tasty morsel of an historical mystery set during the Renaissance in the Borgia household.

I grabbed this book after a) reading some good reviews from bloggers, and b) seeing that Lauren Willig had a blurb on the cover.  Typically I don't pick books based on blurbs since I always seem to end up disappointed that way, but this was a refreshing change to that sad trend.

Anyway, the book opens with Francesca poisoning the guy that was given the job of poisoner after her father was murdered.  Francesca points out that if the guy was up to the standards needed by the Borgia household, he wouldn't have fallen for her trap and would thus still be alive.  Cardinal Borgia figures that that line of logic is sound and Francesca finds herself in the position of court poisoner, able to use all the things she learned at her father's knee to not only keep the family she serves safe from disaster, but also to investigate and avenge her father's murder.  Before she can do any of that, though, she finds herself sucked into the politics surrounding the papal succession and she learns that there's more treachery afoot than even she could have imagined.

You see, Pope Innocent isn't doing so well, and that means that the powers that be are scrambling to shore up their positions and hopefully become the next pope, with all the earthly (and celestial, although that comes a poor second according to many of the major players in the book) power, wealth and influence that comes with the position.  Not least among the players is Rodrigo, Francesca's employer, who's spent a lifetime trying to become pope and isn't about to be foiled this time.

I confess myself almost entirely unfamiliar with the historical events of the period covered by this book, but after finishing the story I can't figure out why more books aren't set in this time period.  There's corruption and intrigue and politics and mystery and suspense and even a shot of romance, and the vivid backdrop and the debauchery of the papal courts serves as a perfect setting.

There are a bunch of storylines going on at once here, as well- the quest for the papal throne, the persecution of the Jews and the plans for a genocide which Francesca must stop, the intrigues within the Borgia family, and secrets that Francesca's father took with him to his grave that help shed some light on why he did the things he did and why he was involved with certain causes.  It makes for an involving book, but attention to detail is definitely required or things can get a little confusing.

If I had to offer a criticism of the book it would be that there were times when details seemed thrown in the mix just to offer a more plausible explanation for a character's action than "because he felt like it."  This was especially true for things pertaining to Francesca's late father- many elements were introduced and after awhile it was a little tiring to be finding out things at the same time Francesca did, seemingly for the shock value.

Beyond that, though, this was an excellent book.  Fans of the Pink Carnation series or of the Lady Julia books- check this one out for sure.

Overall Grade: B+
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