QAB Book Review: “The Serpent and the Pearl”, by Kate Quinn

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Guilia Farnase, commonly known as “Guilia la Bella” and “the Bride of Christ”, was an exquisitely beautiful Italian Renaissance noblewoman, who through a story lost to history, became the beloved mistress and “concubine” of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. Through richly probing the remarkable life of Guilia Farnase, as well as her cook Carmelia Mangano, mother-in-law Adriana Da Mila and a host of other female characters, Kate Quinn craftily explores the options and roles available to Renaissance women, defined by Guilia’s mother to be limited to “Wife, nun — or whore. And once you decide, there’s no changing it.” Or is there? This question is left for readers to decide as Kate Quinn’s fast moving, fun and intriguing plot takes the reader on the twists and turns of the life journeys of “Guilia la Bella”, her cook Carmelia Mangana and her body guard, Leonello. Dio! Don’t be fooled! The Serpent and the Pearl is certainly no “Thirty Shades of Grey, Borgia-Style”, nor is it classic historical romance. Instead, expect historical fiction at it’s finest.

What clearly separates The Serpent and the Pearl from most historical fiction novels is Kate Quinn’s brilliant choice to present her story through the varying first person, present tense narrations of Guilia Farnase, Carmelia Mangano and Leonello.  First person narrations are far too rare in the historical fiction genre and fiction writing in general, and surprising so, given how craftily Kate Quinn is able to draw the reader into the lives of her characters through their distinct voices, individualized stories and varying life perspectives. The resulting rich and often poignant character development, along with the varying but intimately related plot lines of the intriguing and compelling narrators, are the hallmarks of this novel.

If you enjoy the Borgia family intrigues of Renaissance history, rich character development, period accurate historical detail, light romance, mystery and intrigue, seamlessly entwined with fascinating explorations of varying societal roles of the people who lived Renaissance Italy, you will love The Serpent and the Pearl. Just don’t read this book while hungry. Manjia!

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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