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Book Cover Image: The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth LevTitle: The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici

Author: Elizabeth Lev

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

“The astonishing life of a long-misunderstood Renaissance virago Wife, mother, leader, warrior. Caterina Riario Sforza was one of the most prominent women in Renaissance Italy – and one of the most vilified. In this glittering biography, Elizabeth Lev reexamines her extraordinary life and accomplishments. Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope’s corrupt nephew, Caterina was ensnared in Italy’s political intrigues early in life. After turbulent years in Rome’s papal court, she moved to the Romagnol province of Forli. Following her husband’s assassination, she ruled Italy’s crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy – and an icon’s fashion sense. In finally losing her lands to the Borgia family, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny – including Cosimo de’ Medici – to follow her example to greatness. A rich evocation the Renaissance, The Tigress of Forli reveals Caterina Riario Sforza as a brilliant and fearless ruler, and a tragic but unbowed figure.”

Thoughts: The Tigress of Forli covers the life and death of one of the most fascinating women of the Renaissance. While Ms. Lev strives to present as impartial a picture of Caterina as possible, citing both the negative and positive depictions and rumors that occurred both during her life and well after her death, her appreciation for this remarkable woman peeks through her words. A reader is not bothered by this partiality however, as Caterina’s courage and tenacity at standing up to the most powerful and dangerous men of the time are both astonishing and extremely admirable. Caterina Riario Sforza’s exploits are enough to make women everywhere proud to call her a sister.

Using as many written documents, diaries, and portrayals of Caterina as possible, Ms. Lev drives home the challenges Caterina faced as a woman and as a ruler. Ms. Lev does not apologize for Caterina’s seemingly erratic or ruthless behavior at certain crossroads in her life but rather attempts to explain it using the best data available. The reader is left with a very clear picture of this remarkable woman and greater insight into what drove her to make the decisions she made.

Renaissance Italy was an absolute mess, but Ms. Lev does excellent work explaining the factions, betrayals, families, and everything else that comprised Italy during the reign of the Borgias. Understanding these political machinations are not necessary to understanding the novel or anything else but make the entire biography more enjoyable and heighten the reader’s admiration for Caterina.

The Tigress of Forli is an excellent example of a biography done right. Enjoyable and easy to read, it has a real-life heroine who, while ruthless and at times vengeful, still manages to inspire modern day women everywhere. Feminism has nothing on Caterina Riario Sforza.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to NetGalley and HMH Galleys for my e-galley!

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