A True History

Historical Reading: The Borgia Confessions

Obviously I have a soft spot for historical novels and since I suddenly have a lot of time to get some reading done, I thought it would be fun to discuss some of the historical books I’ve been reading through.

I got The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palumbo as a gift from a friend and I was incredibly excited. One of my Historical binges was The Borgias and honestly, they are a fascinating family to study so of course I was excited to read it.

If you’ve never heard of the Borgias, they are a Spanish family who lived in Italy during the late 1400’s and into the early 1500’s. The patriarch of the family, Rodrigo Borgia was Pope Alexander (yes the POPE) but he had 4 illegitimate children (Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Jofre). It wasn’t unusual for holy men to father illegitimate children, but it was usually very hush hush. Rodrigo was fairly open about the four children, they practically lived with him after all, and even though there were written statements that the children were the product of their mother and her actual husband, it was an open secret that all four of them were Borgias. The Borgia name was pretty well known at the time, but they didn’t exactly have a great reputation. They were well known for scheming, poison, and orgies. (No, I’m not kidding)

So I was pretty excited for this book because it was told in dual POV between Cesare (one of Rodrigo’s sons) and a maid in the papal estate, Maddalena Morretti. The book covers a course of almost a decade as Cesare and Maddalena form a friendship and then a relationship of sorts. I was worried when I started reading this, that the author would be too kind to Cesare. Cesare is kind of known as one of the bad boys of History. He was incredibly handsome, but a vile and scheming man who despite being a Cardinal, was well known to want to be a military hero. This book really delves into that and the author didn’t pull any punches with his character, even when I was beginning to think she was going too easy on him and didn’t want to accuse him of anything too drastic, she revealed a twist that made so much sense and I loved it.

Cesare is the kind of person you wouldn’t want to make an enemy of and Palumbo makes that quite clear throughout the book. He loves his youngest siblings and would do anything for them, he’s a bright man, but he’s an amoral person who I think many would be shocked to learn was a member of the church. Cesare was not his fathers favorite son (that would be Juan), but he went out of his way to appease his father in any way possible, even if that meant scaring a few people into silence or poisoning them into silence. It’s strange to get so invested in a point of view that is so dark, but in a way you can’t help but root for the guy, even when rooting for him could lead to far more devastating consequences.

The other point of view is Maddalena Morretti, a maid of Cesare’s sister, Lucrezia. Unlike Cesare, she’s a very devoted and religious woman who goes out of her way to be a kind person. I loved her character, although it was incredibly frustrating when she and Cesare became closer because even though everybody warned her about him, she seemed determined to ignore it. A lot of her storyline drove me crazy and I just wanted to shake her and say “girl, get out of there!” but I will say that near the end she has a plot line that I very much enjoyed. However, I wish that small plot line was a larger part of the book.

There’s nothing wrong with how it was, it was a Historical fiction with romance aspects, but I loved it when Maddalena took a more active role in Cesare’s schemes and I think I liked that more than the romantic scenes.

If you are looking for a story about the Borgias, this book is incredibly well researched and the liberties she took with the few facts we know for sure really make for a great read.

Mallory’s rating: ⅘ stars