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Book Cover Image: Poison by Sara Poole Title: Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance
Author: Sara Poole
ISBN: 9780312609832
No. of Pages: 392
Genre: Historical Fiction

“In the simmering hot summer of 1492, a monstrous evil is stirring within the Eternal City of Rome. The brutal murder of an alchemist sets off a desperate race to uncover the plot that threatens to extinguish the light of the Renaissance and plunge Europe back into medieval darkness.

Determined to avenge the killing of her father, Francesca Giordano defies all convention to claim for herself the position of poisoner serving Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, head of the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy. She becomes the confidante of Lucrezia Borgia and the lover of Cesare Borgia. At the same time, she is drawn to the young renegade monk who yearns to save her life and her soul.

Navigating a web of treachery and deceit, Francesca pursues her father’s killer from the depths of Rome’s Jewish ghetto to the heights of the Vatican itself. In so doing, she sets the stage for the ultimate confrontation with ancient forces that will seek to use her darkest desires to achieve their own catastrophic ends.”

Thoughts: In recent years, the Borgias have become the next great historical fiction fad, with good reason. They represent everything that was corrupt within the Catholic Church while simultaneously supporting those subjects that helped make Rome one of the most powerful cities in Europe for so long. Their history reads like a soap opera, albeit one with a much deadlier demise for its villains. In Poison, Sara Poole’s entry into this intrigue-filled, dangerous world capitalizes on its fascinating subject matter while presenting a heroine that can more than hold her own among one of the most intriguing families in Italy.

Francesca Giordano is something of an enigma. On the one hand, she is extremely well-versed in the matter of plant toxicology and proves herself more than capable of following in her father’s footsteps as poisoner to the Borgia household. On the other hand, for someone with such advanced knowledge, she is extremely naïve, sheltered, and unworldly, still taking refuge in the protective world her father created for her. This becomes extremely apparent as she fumbles her way towards avenging her father’s death. Her missteps are costly, but Francesca can only be described as someone with pluck. She does not give up, and nor is she afraid to own up to her mistakes. Her youth and relative innocence make it easy for readers to all but fall in love with her as they root her on towards her ultimate goal. The fact that she is not afraid to take chances and is as pragmatic as she is ruthless only endears her more to the reading audience.

In Poison, Ms. Poole creates a bygone era with the most vivid of details. Readers will appreciate her attention to historical accuracy, even if the historical elements do read more like fiction than fact. She does not try to beautify what was one of the most corrupt periods in modern history but benefits from it by showing the dangers of power and hatred, especially when money is plentiful. Her ability to weave together fact and fiction creates a vibrant story that brings the entire Borgia clan back to life and, more impressively, makes them sympathetic characters against the madness of the Inquisition.

Poison is an intriguing, fast-paced piece of historical fiction that engages the reader from the very beginning. The introduction of Francesca is a brilliant piece of fiction, showcasing her heroine’s desires, skills, bravado, and unworldliness and charming readers into following her search for her father’s killer. The dying art of poisoning others comes back to life with a vengeance through Francesca’s knowledge and ministrations. Combined with the ruthlessness of the Borgia clan and the corruption within the Church, the world in which Francesca is suddenly thrust is as exciting as it is dangerous. Poison is an admirable entry within the world of historical fiction, and the fact that it is the first novel of a new series makes it that much better, for a reader will not get tired of reading about Francesca, her chosen profession, or her employer.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Eileen Rothschild at St. Martin’s Press for my review copy!

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