Review: In The Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

This book is the sequel to “Blood and Beauty” about the fascinating and unscrupulous Borgia clan. Actually, as depicted, only the men were unscrupulous. The star daughter—the precocious, clever and beautiful Lucretia—is more of a tool in her father and brother’s hands. They make and break marriages for her to suit their political ends, regardless of her feelings. After marriage number two, despite the fact that she loved her husband, she was forced to swallow his lamentable murder and prepare herself for a third husband—all for the sake of the family. This is where “In the Name of the Family” starts. She is saddled with the ugly, humorless, Alfonso, heir to the throne of Ferrara, although both father and son despise her family. And still she strives to make the best of a bad situation. I couldn’t help but admire her pluck. By then, she has sort of forgiven her brother for murdering her husband; she still adores her father who has become fat, feeble, and inconsequential for the most part. Cesare runs the show now, though the pox has ravaged his face and his health; everyone sees that the infamous Duke of Valentinois‎ is losing his edge. But they are far away and she is on her own; she has to fend for herself. What does Lucretia have to live for? She briefly finds herself infatuated with the court poet but soon comes to her senses:

“He winces. ‘You are laughing at me.’
‘Oh no, Pietro. On the contrary, I am very serious. I am a woman who has the capacity to destroy any man I love.’

And though she is looking at him, she is seeing someone else; equally handsome, full of life and laughter. But the image turns and now she is looking at a body dragged from its bed, the face swollen and purple from the garrote of Michelotto’s hands. Not even marriage had saved Alfonso (the second husband) from her brother’s wrath.
She pulls herself out of his grip. ‘You will find it hard to change the course of Italian poetry with your neck wrung like a chicken’s.’”

And this is the story of Lucretia’s life; like a black widow spider, she is fatal to her mates—up to this point. Although it seems she never found real happiness, at least she hasn’t lost any of her appeal and manages to hold her own despite overwhelming odds. I’m sorry to say that this novel doesn’t move along as sensationally as the first, but that’s the fault of the history, not the storytelling. The glory days of the Borgia are coming to an end, and Lucretia is the family’s only hope. It’s a bittersweet situation she finds herself in, but perhaps she’s better off than otherwise.

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