It is 1493 and Rodrigo Borgia has occupied St. Peter's throne for a year-thanks in large part to his poisoner Francesca Giordano. Borgia knows his position as Pope is not secure. He faces threats from his rival Cardinal della Rovere who is plotting to overthrow him and the Friar Savonarola who preaches against the corruption Borgia is known for. Francesca is charged with keeping the Borgia family safe as they are attacked from all sides but the feared poisoner has demons of her own to deal with. She is caught between a love for her friend Rocco that she won't allow herself to have and her desire for the magnetic Cesare Borgia. As she struggles to keep the Borgia family safe from numerous threats, Francesca encounters a sinister figure from her past-the mad monk Morizzi whose number one goal is to see her dead. Determined to do her duty Francesca takes a daring risk and puts it all on the line.
Francesca is my kind of heroine! She's bold, feisty, daring, a bit dark but with a soft side that peeks out every once in awhile. In 15th century Italy-a place where religion rules and the quest for knowledge is forbidden, she is a woman who holds her own in what is clearly a man's world. I thought the author did a fantastic job of detailing Rome in the time of the Borgias-the political situations, the determination of the church to suppress learning, the city itself with its underground tunnels and hidden passages. I also really liked her take on these well known characters. Borgia himself remained pretty much as I had previously thought of him. He was ambitious, lecherous, someone who could not be trusted or maybe only if your aims coincided with his. The portrayals of Lucrezia and Cesare however, were quite different than I had read before. Lucrezia was not the vixen here but a young, hopeful and spoiled girl who realizes she is her father's political pawn. Cesare is an intelligent, attractive young man who is rebelling against the life his powerful father has chosen for him. We see a softer side of him instead of the violent brute we normally see.
There was a lot going on in this novel. Borgia faced danger from all sides and Francesca faced threats of her own. The first half of the book was a bit slower paced as it was building up the story but the second half really got going and I found myself flying through it. There were only two sticking points for me in the whole book. One was the referencing of things that occurred Poison, the first novel in the series. I started with this book and have not read the first one so I was a bit put off by being told so much about what had occurred in the first book. I realize some of this was necessary to the plot later in the book but it still bugged me a bit. I kept getting the feeling I was missing out on something. Second, was that I figured out who was helping the mad monk Morizzi quite awhile before it was revealed in the book. This was not too much of an issue because all the action occurring and the build up to this reveal was worth it.
Even though these are meant to be stand alone books, I recommend reading them in order to get the most out of them. I really like the characters Poole has created and I think I will be going back to read the first book and continuing on with subsequent installments in the series. Despite the few "issues" I had it was definitely an enjoyable read for me.
I received this book from the publisher via Goodreads First Reads Giveaways. These are my honest thoughts on the book.