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.
About the Author
SARA POOLE lives in Connecticut, where her discovery of the abundance of deadly flora growing just beyond her doorstep prompted her interest in the poisoner's art.
Sara Poole lives in Connecticut, where her discovery of the abundance of deadly flora growing just beyond her doorstep prompted her interest in the poisoner’s art. Her novels include Poison, The Borgia Betrayal and The Borgia Mistress.
Read an Excerpt
The Spaniard died in agony. That much was evident from the contortions of his once handsome face and limbs and the black foam caking his lips. A horrible death to be sure, one only possible from that most feared of weapons:
Having pronounced his verdict, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, prince of Holy Mother Church, looked up, his dark eyes heavy-lidded with suspicion, and surveyed the assembled members of his household.
"He was poisoned."
A tremor ran through guards, retainers, and servants all, as though a great wind blew across the gilded reception room shaded by the columned loggia beyond and cooled in this blazing Roman summer of Anno Domini 1492 by breezes from the gardens filled with the scents of exotic jasmine and tamarind.
"In my house, this man I called to serve me was poisoned in my house!"
Pigeons in the cotes beneath the palazzo eaves fluttered as the great booming voice washed over them. Roused to anger, Il Cardinale was a marvel to behold, a true force of nature.
"I will find who did this. Whoever dared will pay! Captain, you will —"
About to issue his orders to the commander of his condotierri, Borgia paused. I had stepped forward in that moment, squeezing between a house priest and a secretary, to put myself at the front of the crowd that watched him with terrified fascination. The movement distracted him. He stared at me, scowling.
I inclined my head slightly in the direction of the body.
They fled, all of them, from the old veterans to the youngest servant, tumbling over one another to be gone from his presence, away from his terrifying rage that turned the blood to ice, freed to whisper among themselves about what had happened, what it meant, and, above all, who had dared to do it.
Only I remained.
"Giordano's daughter?" Borgia stared at me across the width of the reception room. It was a vast space carpeted in the Moorish fashion as so few can afford to do, furnished with the rarest woods, the most precious fabrics, the grandest silver and gold plate, all to proclaim the power and glory of the man whose will I dared to challenge.
A drop of sweat ran down between my shoulder blades. I had worn my best day clothes for what I feared might be the final hour of my life. The under dress of dark brown velvet, pleated across the bodice and with a wide skirt that trailed slightly behind me, pressed down heavily on my shoulders. A pale yellow overdress was clinched loosely under my breasts, a reminder of the weight I had lost since my father's death.
By contrast, the Cardinal was the picture of comfort in a loose, billowing shirt and pantaloons of the sort he favored when he was at home and relaxing, as he had been when word was brought to him of the Spaniard's death.
I nodded. "I am, Eminence, Francesca Giordano, your servant."
The Cardinal paced in one direction, back again, a restless animal filled with power, ambition, appetites. He gazed at me and I knew what he must see: a slim woman of not yet twenty, unremarkable in looks except for overly large brown eyes, auburn hair, and, thanks to my fear, very pale skin.
He gestured at the Spaniard, who in the heat of the day had already begun to stink.
"What do you know of this?"
"I killed him."
Even to my own ears, my voice sounded harsh against the tapestry-covered walls. The Cardinal paced closer, his expression that of mingled shock and disbelief.
"You killed him?"
I had prepared a speech that I hoped would explain my actions while concealing my true intent. It came in such a rush I feared I might garble it.
"I am my father's daughter. I learned at his side, yet when he was killed, you did not consider for a moment that I should take his place. You would have for a son but not for me. Instead, you hired this ... other —" I caught my breath and pointed at the dead man. "Hired him to protect you and your family. Yet he could not even protect himself, not from me."
I could have said more. That Borgia had done nothing to avenge my father's murder. That he had allowed him to be beaten in the street like a dog, left in the filth with his skull crushed, and not lifted a hand to seek vengeance. That such a lapse on his part was unparalleled ... and unforgivable.
He had left it to me, the poisoner's daughter, to exact justice. But to do so, I needed power, paid for in the coin of one dead Spaniard.
The Cardinal's great brow wrinkled prodigiously, leaving his eyes mere slits. Yet he appeared calm enough, with no sign of the rage he had shown minutes before.
A flicker of hope stirred within me. Ten years living under his roof, watching him, hearing my father speak of him. Ten years convinced that he was a man of true intelligence, of reason and logic, a man who would never be ruled by his emotions. All down to this single moment.
"How did you do it?"
He was testing me; that was good. I took a breath and answered more calmly.
"I knew he would be hot and thirsty when he arrived, but that he would also be cautious of what he drank. The flagon I left for him contained only iced water, pure enough to pass any inspection. The poison was on the outside, coating the glass. He was sweating, which meant that the pores of his skin were wide open. From the moment he touched the flagon, it would have been over very quickly."
"Your father never mentioned such a poison to me, one that could be used in that way."
I saw no reason to tell Il Cardinale that I, not my father, had developed that particular poison. Likely, he would not have believed me anyway. Not then.
"No craftsman gives away all his secrets," I said.
He did not reply at once but came closer yet, so close that I could feel the heat pouring off him, see the great swathe of his bull-like shoulders blocking out the light. The glint of gold from the cross dangling against his barrel chest caught my gaze and I could not look away.
Cristo en extremis.
"By God, girl," the Cardinal said, "you have surprised me."
A momentous admission from this man who, it was said, knew before any other which swallow would alight first on any tree in Rome and whether the branch could hold its weight.
I took a breath against the tightness of my chest, looked away from the cross, away from him, out through the open window toward the great river and the vast land beyond.
"I would serve you, signore." I turned my head, just enough to meet his gaze and hold it. "But first, you must let me live."
The servants came and went, removing all trace of the Spaniard. They carried in my chests, brought food and drink, and even turned down the covers of the bed framed in wooden posts of carved acanthus where once my father had slept and now I would.
Tasks completed, they filed out silently, all except the last of them, an old woman close enough to Heaven to have little to lose. Skittering away, she hissed:
A cold shiver ran through me, though I was careful to give no sign of it. Such a word would never have been applied to my father or to the Spaniard or to any man possessed of the fearsome but respected skills of a professional poisoner. But it would be applied to me now and forever, and I was helpless to prevent it.
They burn witches. The terrifying auto-de-fé is not limited to its point of origin in Spain. It has spread to the Lowlands, the Italian Peninsula, all of Europe. For the most part, the flames consume those accused of heresy, but how easy it is to indict a man or a woman — almost always a woman — or even a child accused of the even graver sin of trafficking with Satan. Anyone too conversant with ancient healing, too knowledgeable about plants, or simply too different from others may end as fuel for the fires that char human skin, sizzle human fat, crack human bones, and reduce to ashes all that is hope and dream.
I turned, intending to distract myself by unpacking the chests, then turned again suddenly, a hand clamped over my mouth. On my knees, I yanked the piss pot from beneath the bed and crouched over it as the contents of my stomach spewed out, a bitter stream that all but choked me.
Do not think I am prone to such infirmity, but the events of the day, the desperate gamble I had been forced to take, and the terror of mortal sin it brought overwhelmed me. I lay where I was, unmoving. Exhaustion bore me away as on a fast-running tide flowing swiftly beyond any sight of shore.
The nightmare came almost at once. The same dream that has tormented me all my life. I am in a very small space behind a wall. There is a tiny hole through which I can see into a room filled with shadows, some of them moving. The darkness is broken by a shard of light that flashes again and again. Blood pours from it, a giant wave of blood lapping against the walls of the room and threatening to drown me. I wake to my own screams, which I have learned from long practice to muffle in my pillows.
As quickly as I could, I clambered to my feet. My limbs shook and I could feel the hot wash of tears on my cheeks. Had anyone come in to see me in such a state? Was someone there now, waiting in the shadows? The Spaniard had died not far from where I stood. Did his spirit linger? Did my father's shade, unable to rest until I fulfilled my vow of vengeance?
Heart hammering, I lit the candle beside the bed but found no comfort in its meager circle of light. Beyond the tall windows, the moon rode high, casting a silver ribbon across the garden and far beyond. Rome slept, so much as it ever did. In the narrow alleys and lanes rats were at work, gnawing here, feasting there, noses twitching, claws grasping, all in the shadow of the Curia. I lifted my gaze, staring into the middle distance from which I fancied I could see, glowing in the silver light, vast, writhing tentacles stretching outward in all directions, grasping at power and glory through all of Christendom. The vision was no more than a figment of an overwrought mind, yet it was real all the same. As real as the whispers that the master of it all, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, Il Papa Innocent VIII was dying.
Of natural causes?
Do not tell me you are shocked. We live in the age of poison, of one kind or another. Every great house employs someone like myself for protection or, when necessary, to make an example of an enemy. It is the way of things. The Throne of Saint Peter is hardly immune, being no more than the ultimate prize the families fight over like yapping dogs maddened at the kill. No one perched on it should sleep too soundly. Or eat without having his food tasted first, but that is just my professional opinion.
Cui bono? If the Pope dies, who gains?
Still weary in body and mind, I pulled off my clothes and slipped at last into the bed. Hugging my knees, I felt the cool damask of the pillow beneath my cheek. Around me the palazzo slumbered and shortly so did I, safe within the stronghold of the man who had plotted for decades to make the papacy the ultimate jewel in his earthly crown.
In the morning, I retrieved the clothes I had abandoned on the floor, smoothed the wrinkles from them, and folded them carefully away in the wardrobe. Mindful of the dignity of my new estate but equally concerned with comfort on what promised to be a sultry day, I donned a simple white linen underdress and covered it with a blue overdress embroidered along the hem with a pastiche of flowers. The embroidery was my own poor effort, for I have never been skilled with a needle; the flowers were the deceptively benign blossoms found on various poisonous plants. So had I made more tolerable the tedium of stitchery, at which every decent woman is expected to excel regardless of her natural inclination.
Properly dressed and with my hair twined in a braid coiled around the crown of my head, I ignored the rumbling of my stomach and set about my newly acquired duties with what I hoped was a pardonable eagerness. First, I sought out the captain of the condotierri to review the security precautions my father had put in place. Every scrap of food, every drop of liquid, every object that conceivably could come into contact with Il Cardinale or any of his family had to be provenanced, vetted, and secured. That required the full cooperation of the captain of his guard.
Vittoro Romano was outside the armory in the wing of the palazzo that also housed the barracks. A dozen or so young guardsmen had dragged benches into the sun and were busy polishing their armor while keeping an eye on the servant girls who found reason to pass by, balancing baskets of laundry or kitchen supplies on their swaying hips. Several cats dozed nearby, raising their heads only to stare at the pigeons who stayed just out of reach. It had not rained in days. The sky held the lemony hue that comes to Rome in summer. The courtyard in front of the armory was dusty, despite being paved with cobblestones. I watched an eddy of dirt spring up in the wake of a passing breeze and dance across the space of several yards before collapsing almost at Vittoro's booted feet.
He did not appear to notice. In his fifties and of medium height with a saturnine temperament, the captain of the guard gave the impression of being neither very interested nor even particularly aware of whatever happened to be going on around him. Anyone foolish enough to be gulled by that deception could count himself fortunate if he lived long enough to regret it.
Vittoro was speaking with several of his lieutenants but sent them away when he saw me. I was apprehensive about approaching him, wondering how he would take to dealing with a young woman who had killed to attain a position of authority. To my relief, he greeted me with a cordial nod.
"Buongiorno, Donna Francesca. I am pleased to see that you are well."
By which I gleaned that the captain, at least, did not regret Il Cardinale's decision to let me live, as opposed to having my throat slit and my body tossed into the Tiber, or however he chose to dispose of those who displeased him. Even so, I was under no illusion that the rest of the household felt the same. The old woman who had branded me a witch was unlikely to be alone in her sentiment.
I stood before him gravely, mindful that others were watching. "Thank you, Capitano, and I you. If it is convenient, I would like to discuss our security procedures."
He sketched a small bow and straightened, smiling. "By all means. Do you wish to make any changes?"
"To the contrary, I want to make sure that no one mistakes the trust Il Cardinale has placed in me as a license for laxity. Were that to occur, I would have no choice but to take it amiss."
"How amiss?" Vittoro inquired. I did not mistake the twinkle in his eye. He had known me as long as I had lived under Borgia's roof and had seen me grow from a gawky child to a somewhat less gawky woman. He and his wife — a plumb, cheerful matron — had three daughters, all close to my own age. Being proper young women, each was married, but they all still lived in the neighborhood with their husbands and growing broods of children. They were a source of great contentment to their father. I had seen my own look at them wistfully on their frequent, clamorous visits to the palazzo.
"Very amiss," I replied.
Vittoro nodded. "I will put that about. Whatever anyone thinks of Il Cardinale's choice of you, no sensible person wants to be on the wrong side of a poisoner."
I allowed myself a small sigh of relief. His support was essential to my success and I was grateful for it. We went on to speak of the procedures that, thus far at least, had proven effective in safeguarding Borgia and his family.
Over the years, numerous attempts had been made to kill or at least incapacitate Il Cardinale, but all had failed thanks to my father's vigilance. One such effort had involved a round of cheese injected with a solution of arsenic. Another concerned a bolt of cloth tainted with tincture of thorn apple. There were others, but I see no reason to detail them.
Of a certainty, there would be more. It was only a question of time before an attempt was made to test the vigilance of Borgia's new poisoner. I knew that full well even as I lived in apprehension of it.
"D'Marco is looking for you," Vittoro warned when we were done.
I grimaced, to his amusement, and took my leave. My intent was to make my presence felt in what was, from my perspective, the most vital part of the household and of necessity the essential focus of my attentions, the kitchens. I got as far as the covered walkway leading to them when I was intercepted by a small, ferretlike fellow.
Excerpted from "Poison"
Copyright © 2010 Sara Poole.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
"Pretty Poisons All in a Row"
An Original Essay by the Author
Take a stroll through your local park, past an empty lot, or in your own backyard and you are likely to come across the deadly means of dispatching a fellow human being from this world. Poisons abound in nature, often coming in the form of lovely flowers, attractive berries, and seemingly harmless leaves and roots. The results vary from the relatively benign to the almost instantly fatal but the message from Mother Nature is the same: Beware!
My own initiation into the ready availability of poisons all around us came a few years ago when I noticed a plant I hadn't seen before growing just a few feet from my doorstep. The plant with its distinctively curving leaves turned out to be jack-in-the-pulpit, as Arisaema triphyllum is commonly known. In identifying it, I learned that pretty jack contains calcium oxalate, which in small quantities will irritate the mouth, esophagus, and stomach while larger amounts cause swelling severe enough to cut off breathing.
That got me to wondering what else I might find amid the wild flowers and plants that I'd enjoyed in passing but rarely thought about. In short order, I discovered foxglove with its potentially deadly dose of digitalis; monkshood carrying lethal aconite; nightshade of the sweet but fatal berries; hallucinogenic and sometimes lethal jimsonweed; and much more. Many of these plants flourish because the omnipresent deer avoid them, thereby giving them an advantage over tastier edibles while making our own backyards and by-ways a virtual pantry of poisons.
In these days of modern forensics, toxicology analyses readily uncover the presence of deadly natural compounds, limiting the appeal for would-be murderers. But in the past, nature played a far more active role in homicides and executions. Hemlock, for example, killed Socrates. Arsenic was suspected in the death of Lorenzo de Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent) and numerous other nobles of the time. Several popes were rumored to have been poisoned and far more feared that they would be. Much more recently, the deadly poison ricin, extracted from castor beans, has been used to kill at least one anti-Communist operative in Western Europe.
Even more than deliberate killings, accidental poisonings still occur with alarming regularity. Hikers and campers, swooning over the beauty of nature and unaware of the dangers, ingest substances that at best leave them mildly ill and at worst land them in the hospital. Children and pets are even more vulnerable, especially since deadly doses for them are much smaller.
The lesson for all of us has to be that while we should enjoy nature by all means, we underestimate it at our own peril. Before you pluck that berry, sauté that mushroom, or toss what you think is an edible flower into your salad, stop and ask yourself: Is Mother Nature about to kill me?
At the Court of the Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy
Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times
E. R. Chamberlain
The Fall of the House of Borgia
The Birth of Venus
In the Company of the Courtesan
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel
The Borgias and Their Enemies
The Borgia Bride: A Novel
The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici
Michael Edward Mallett
The Borgias: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Dynasty
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rome, 1492. Francesca Giordano needs to avenge her father's murder, but to do so, she must first gain power by employing the skills she's learned from her father and taking his place as Cardinal Roderigo Borgia's master poisoner. But her father's death isn't a simple matter to avenge--as she explores the circumstances of his death, she learns that he was involved in an empire-changing plot, and she is expected to follow in his footsteps and carry out an unthinkable assassination. Francesca is amazing. At first, I thought she would be unsympathetic, since her first act in chapter one is to poison Borgia's current poisoner in order to take his position. But while Francesca does plenty of unsavory things, she still retains a heart capable of loving and a moral compass that pushes her to protect the innocent. In her own words, she lives in ugly times: "We live in the age of poison, of one kind or another. Every great house employs someone like myself for protection or, when necessary, to make an example of an enemy. It is the way of things" (pg 11), and she does her best, considering all the scheming, backstabbing, and upheaval of the society around her. Francesca is also a woman performing what is traditionally a man's job, so she has more than the usual amount of opposition to her work--while a male poisoner is honored as a professional, a woman is looked on with disgust and labeled a witch. Most of her work has nothing to do with killing, but rather with preventing the death of her patron Borgia, who must be protected from poisoned food, poisoned cloth, etc. She has to be intelligent enough to out-think anyone who would make an attempt on Il Cardinale's life, and she's highly adept. Plus, she's not a lone wolf and is circumspect enough to gain allies in the Borgia house, among them the captain of the guard and the chief steward, though her friendship with the bubbly 12-year-old Lucrezia Borgia isn't a calculated move--they're genuinely fond of each other. The only problems I have with Francesca's POV are the times she explains to the reader her reasons are for doing certain things. I could have done without the extra editorializing because her motives always eventually become clear, but aside from that, her narrative style is classy and compulsively readable. I took my time reading Poison, which is unusual for me. I like to read quickly, but here I found a book worth savoring, something intelligent and suspenseful, with an encouraging undertone. The cruel side of life shown in the despicable actions of the Italian clergy is balanced by Francesca's desire to do the morally right thing for the greatest number of people, despite her dark internal leanings. One last praise I have to offer is that the novel is strongly pro-Semitic, which I very much appreciated--the scenes set in the Jewish Quarter were heartbreaking, and the possibility of genocide against the Jewish people of Renaissance Europe was introduced with all the horror appropriate to such an act. I was simply delighted when I discovered that there will be more Francesca novels. I think I'll be seeking out more historical fiction in the meantime, to fill the void until Sara Poole's next book comes out.
A nice book if you would like light reading about the Borgias. For a more serious historical fiction read that is more thrilling, more captivating, a real page-turner, there are books by other authors.
I have to say this book did not live up to expectations for me. There were a lot of details in this book....a lot. Unfortunately the details were less about the characters and more drawn out on sceneries and events. As a result I never came to know or even care for any of the characters. I feel like this book had a ton of potential. I finished it with relief that it was over.
I read this in about three hours. I absolutely loved it! It's a little much at first, but once you get everything sorted out in your head it flows very well. The plot was ingenius and kept me guessing most of the time! Very, very good read. I'd buy it again in a heartbeat.
Great historical read!!!! A real page turner, I truly enjoyed this book
Sara Poole does a great job of taking history and weaving a fictional tale through it. It makes the book so interesting and believable that I couldn't put it down. I am so excited to read a sequel from her! The way she offers details about the time and place transports you there. It reminds me of something by Anne Rice - my favorite author. The start of the book seems a little overwhelming, but keep reading and everything will fall in to place.
Leave out the sex and cussing and then it would be five stars
The book was good, but it did drag a bit in some points.
I'm always on the lookout for a good historical fiction and this one did not disappoint. I picked it up because it was about fictional employee of Cardinal Borgia, but am now starting the second book after becoming fascinated with the poisoner herself. I found this book to be a great read.
Great historical mystery
If your looking for something fast paces this isn't it. In fact, it took me awhile to get into the story. But gradually the characters grew on me. I found it very interesting that so many are actual figures in history and how much of their lives revolved around poisons. So, it's only appropriate that the story be about the fictional poisoner. I enjoyed Francesca's voice. She questions her actions, but always continues on with what she thinks is right. I liked her relationships with the characters around her. People are both afraid and in awe of her and it shows in how the behave towards her. She's got an end goal, and I don't think she cares how she gets there. I do get the feeling the some of the "real" characters are played off as being a little bit less diabolical than they might have been in real life. Cardinal Borgia is said to have been one of the most corrupt Pope's in Catholic history. I did not get that impression from this story. The story is slow to build. It has to lay out all the details first. I felt it did a good job of portraying Rome in the late 1400's. It was also interesting reading about the Catholic church and how it may have functioned in a different era. It's also an era I'm sure the church would like to forget. The inclusion of the Jewish people and some of their strife's during this time make the story very real. Some of the events may be fiction, but it seems like this could have happened. Overall, I liked it quite a bit more than I thought I would. The ending leaves an opening for a sequel and I would love to see more of the Borgia family and of Francesca.
In 1492, Giordano is murdered on the streets of Rome. His daughter wants to know why and who, but no one not even his employer seems interested. To obtain the knowledge she seeks, Francesca knows she must replace her late father as the chief poisoner of Rodrigo Borgia. The only way to prove her capable of performing the position is to poison someone of importance; she kills her target and is hired by Borgia s his personal poisoner. When Pope Innocent II dies, her assignment becomes clear. She must murder any rival of Rodrigo who along with his family plans to see him become the next Pope. However, her efforts prove so successful that those who killed her father come after her. This is a fascinating early Renaissance era thriller starring a fabulous lead protagonist who brings to life the political intrigue of the times. Although the story line can turn slow as Sara Poole provides a powerful look at the Borgia dynasty through the female poisoner, fans will relish this strong historical as murder and mayhem mix in late fifteenth century Rome and Vatican City as competitors to replace the late Pope Innocent II kill off opponents. Harriet Klausner
I enjoyed this book. It was well-written and truely a page turner for me. The only minor misgiving I have with the story, is that the main character's attitudes and actions seem a bit "modern" for the story's time period in Renaissance Italy.
Have you ever read a novel that made you want to quickly flip through the pages because you couldn't wait to devour it all, and yet at the same time want to savor every carefully chosen, skillfully written word? A novel that made you relate to the characters so closely that it hurt you when they made a terrible choice, that you grew anxious when they were in peril? These are the marks of a brilliant novel, well developed characters and a plotline that leaves one wanting more. I must admit I did not have high hopes going into Poison. It was a bargain book that I picked up as a filler for free shipping - and it was one of the best decisions I have made regarding choosing a novel. I will not begin to skirt the fact that this is a slower read. It is not a quick paced, plot driven novel. Sara Poole, a pen name for another famous author I have yet to discover (but long to), carefully explains her settings, allows for one to immerse oneself in a culture from a different time, before moving forward with the story. This type of writing is not bothersome for me, it allows for me to be completely and utterly pulled into the story. However, the impressive detail and full immersion into the setting did not leave me wanting for plot, for it was surely there. I wished for the ability to know the entirety of this novel in an instant because it was difficult for me to pace myself. I regret that this is a series, though I have already read the second one, because I simply cannot wait a moment longer to know what is happening with Francesca. An interesting premise to be sure Francesca Giordano's father, a poisoner for the infamous Rodrigo Borgia, has recently been murdered. Seeking to avenge her father's death, the plot centers around Francesca's assent to his position while being a woman in a man's world full of deceit, illusions and hate. The subplots include a romance, an affair and plans of genocide. If you're one looking for a romantic novel however, look elsewhere. I longed to know more about Francesca and the man she loves, I will not ruin whom she has feelings for as it develops throughout the novel and there are a few men that fit the bill for a while, but Poole was elusive and it is without a doubt a secondary story (a scant few pages every so often to sate one's longing). I'm still waiting to see how that pans out! A definite recommendation, but it is a more mature novel. Darker themes and plotlines fill the pages, especially in the sequel and more than likely the forthcoming third book
The Borgias have been well-hyped historical figures for many years but recently they have been front and center so there is no surprise that more and more books are being written with them as main characters. This book is the first in a series with the Borgias in the forefront. In 1492 when this book is set, Rodrigo Borgia, a cardinal in the Catholic Church, is startled when his Poisoner is poisoned by the daughter of his former poisoner. (Are there enough poisoners to go around?) When Francesca Giodano explains that she needs to avenge her father's death she is placed in the envious/not so envious position of protecting Il Cardinale and assisting him in his efforts to be the next Pope. The story-telling is so well structured that one wonders if it could be true.What fascinates me the most about this book and the story it tells is how Ms Poole exposes the corruption of the Church's upper echelon as well as interweaving anti-Semitism and the Spanish Inquisition. MS Poole also has an interesting style of writing with this tale coming directly from the central character as if it were a very long letter being written to a friend.To be honest, I won the second book in the series Borgia Betrayal and figured that I should probably read the first in the series as preparation. Now I am really looking forward to the Borgia Betrayal if it would just get here!
Summary: Francesca Giordano is the daughter of the poisoner employed by Rodrigo Borgia. When her father is murdered in the street, she petitions Borgia to allow her to take his place. While her secret motivation is vengeance for her father, her main responsibilities are making sure Borgia and his household remain safe from the poisons of his rivals, and occasionally using her knowledge to help further Borgia's ambitions... ambitions that stop at nothing short of the papacy. But what Francesca uncovers is a plot that ranges far wider than the Borgias and their rivals, a plot that will take Francesca from the heart of the Jewish Ghetto to the depths of the catacombs beneath the Vatican, a plot of unspeakable evil that could change the face of Europe forever.Review: I haven't read a ton of historical fiction this year, but a lot of what I have read has been really, really good, and Poison is up at the top of the pack. If all of the historical fiction novels on my shelf were as good as this, I'd be a very happy camper indeed.Let's run down the checklist of what I want out of my historical fiction, shall we? An well-evoked and interesting setting with which I am not overly familiar? Poison's got it. I've read plenty of books set in the early Renaissance, plenty set in Rome (this was my third in a row, actually), and at least one that features the Borgias (Gregory Maguire's Mirror, Mirror), but this was the first I've read that involves the papacy and the upper echelons of the Catholic Church so directly. Its plot involving anti-semitism, the Inquisition, the machinations of the Borgias, and the early stirrings of the Renaissance was completely fascinating. In addition, Poole's great at bringing her settings to life, to the point where I could practically feel the Roman summer heat and the creeping chill of the crypts. Next on the checklist: a complex, well-developed, and relatable main character? Check! Francesca's got a great voice, and I really enjoyed her point of view; she's probably somewhat anachronistically independent-minded, but she was so much fun to read that I didn't really mind. Poole's other characters were equally well-drawn, and I particularly enjoyed her interpretations of Cesare and the young Lucrezia Borgia - not traditionally villainous, but still within the realm of historical believability. (Also appreciated is the author's note in which she separates historical fact from authorial invention.)Pretty much the only thing I didn't love was the habit Poole had of starting a scene or digression, and then having Francesca demur from telling us more, citing discretion or protection from a poisoner's knowledge or whatever. Used sparingly, it would have been cute and charming and helped to develop Francesca's character. However, after a while, it started to feel like Poole's way of getting around a scene she didn't want to write, or research she hadn't done.But in the grand scheme of things, that's a pretty minor issue. Other than that, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and can't wait to read the sequel. 4.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Fans of historical fiction, mysteries involving the Catholic church, or the Borgias should definitely check this out.
Poison tells the story of Francesca Girodano, a young woman who positions herself as Cardinal Borgia's "poisoner" in order to avenge her father's death. Francesca is asked to create posions for the Cardinal, as well as to protect him and his family from harm. Putting herself in constant danger to do her job, Francesca learns of the growing tension between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, as well as finding out much more about her father then she ever knew.The beginning of the book is very fast paced with a lot of action, but the middle is a bit slow in places and even though the ending sets itself up for a sequel I'm not so sure I'll be reading it. Since the novel is told in first person and because of Francesca's job she comes off as a rather unlikeable protagonist, but she is headstrong and brave which is nice to see. I would love to think that more woman at the time where as gutsy as Francesca, but that was also my main complaint with her and the book. She just doesn't seem to fit with how a woman of the time would have been allowed to act. I also seriously doubt she would have been allowed to hold such an important job, considering how women of the time were viewed by men. Since the book was tagged as "Before the Tudors, there were the Borgias" I was definitely a bit disappointed that they weren't featured more heavily in the story. I did enjoy all the action and the religious plot line between the Catholics and the Jews, as I knew very little about that before I read the book. Overall I thought the book was okay, would recommend it more to people who like historical romance rather then did hard historical fiction readers.
Who can Francesca trust? Which should side should she pledge her alligence?It's 1492, Francesca Giodano takes over her deceased father's position as poisoner to Cardinal Borgia. Rare to be a woman poisoner, but even more odd when she gets dragged into a plot of treachery and murder. It is a monentous conspiracy that could cost her her life and thousands of others. Murder, religion, lust and conspiracy- this book has it all. Such a page turner! I love historical fiction that grabs you and pulls you in, even after the end. Poison did not disappoint. Kudos Sara Poole, looking forward to the next one already!
I really wanted to like this book because I enjoy historical fiction and strong female characters. However, I just was never drawn into the plot. In theory, it had everything that would be interesting in a book: intrigue, mystery, scandal, violence, romance, vendetta, but I just always felt removed from the main character, never truly aligned with her concerns. Although I am no expert on the Borgias or the Renaissance, I felt some of the situations were just too far fetched to be believable. I'd pass this onto others as a beach book. Reading it once is enough.
Poison was a book that pulls you in, deep into the maze of plots, madmen and religious perversion. Francesca takes over her fathers role as Cardinal Borgia's personal poisoner; takes on the duties of poisoning enemies while protecting the Cardinal, his wives, mistresses, and children from being poisoned. As she takes on this role, the current Pope is dying and a crazed race to claim the Papal throne is lining up. Francesca is battling the loss of her father, a new position, and discovering that her father was not exactly the man she believed he was. As accurate of a historical fiction novel as I could imagine, Poison is a straightforward book on how life was lead- from the viewpoint of a girl who is just figuring out who she really is.
Poison by Sara Poole follows the misadventures of Donna Francesca Giordano, the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia's professional poisoner, as she vies to take his place and avenge his murder, becoming entangled along the way in the morally questionable ambitions of Rodrigo Borgia, the insatiable romantic conquests of his brash son Cesare Borgia, and the unfolding mystery of her father's shadowed past.The novel starts out a bit slowly, as Francesca is prone to exposition and there is a lot for her to lay out before the plot can really get started. However, Francesca is a pleasant and thoughtful protagonist who lends herself readily to suspense, and once the momentum of the violence and drama starts to build, the book is pretty difficult to put down.It seems like this particular breed of historical novel often falls prey to cliche and the desire of authors to create bland, predictable self-insert characters, but I must give Sara Poole credit for ably side-stepping these pitfalls. Although there were some recognizable tropes such as the secret Jewish backgrounds of several of the characters, most other aspects of the story were refreshingly original. For example, the alternating romances between Francesca and Rocco, and Francesca and Cesare are mature and complex, taking into account the adult emotions and concerns suited to each of the characters and their respective situations rather than that variety of hackneyed, fluffy, magical all-encompassing puppy love that a lot of fiction writers indulge in when their characters are not sufficiently rounded out to sustain anything else. I can understand to an extent why this might frustrate readers expecting a love-defeats-all plot, but personally I find it a bit of a relief to read about a heroine who can manage to put her romantic life on the back burner for a chapter or two while more dire circumstances must be dealt with.I do give a bit more credence to the criticisms that the Borgias seem to be a rather absent given the focus on their family the book claims to give. I did feel it was to my advantage that I was already familiar with the story of the Borgias before picking up this book, and I think having a grasp on the larger picture helped make it more tolerable to me that Lucrezia has only a passing presence and that Rodrigo and especially Cesare are not as central to the ongoing action as many of the other characters. Much of what was discussed in the novel about each of the Borgias was framed as allusion to actions and occurrences that happened after the end of Poison's plot, as remembered by the older and wiser Francesca as she narrates her earlier life, which could be understandably confusing for readers with no background knowledge whatsoever about the Borgias (though it seems likely their roles will be fleshed out extensively in the future). From the frequent foreshadowing by narrator Francesca and from the various threads left loose at the end of the book, such as the fate of Morozzi and Francesca's introduction to the secret society Lux, it appears likely that Sara Poole is setting us up for a sequel or possibly a series of novels following the entirety of the Borgia saga. It's evident to me how much love Poole has for the history she writes about, and how much care she puts into her craft, and I look forward to any future episodes in the lives of Francesca Giordano and the Borgias with great anticipation.Buy it, read it, it's good!
I had very high hopes for Poison. I have always found myself curious about the Borgias and even more fascinated by the Renaissance; so when I heard this book was available for early reading I jumped on it. However, I am sad to say I found myself rather bored. While the writing was strong and the story interesting enough, I found the depth of the characters extremely lacking. I will be the first to acknowledge that as a reader, I am more interested in character growth than plot, and therefore my statement is completely bias. However, that being said, while the plot was okay, i was so very disappointed that the characters were so lacking I found it hard to care about what happened to them. Sadly, this book was just not my cup of tea, and will most likely sit on my book shelf unfinished as I have lost interest. I would most likely suggest it to someone who wanted a bit of historical-fiction fluff. If you don't want to connect with the characters, and you want to be able to leave them behind at the close of a cover, this might be a good book for you.
This book is a little bit out of my norm, though not entirely as history is an interest of mine, and Poison is historical fiction. In context, I thoroughly enjoyed "Water for Elephants" which transported readers to the era of the Great Depression in the United States and life aboard a travelling circus of that era, and read The Book Thief, which took us to World War II Germany. Poison takes us a little bit further back in history for the story that it wishes to tell. So while Poison doesn't fit into the category of science fiction or fantasy as this website usually focuses on, I am taking the liberty of including my thoughts on this book here.The setting for the story is Rome, 1492. The main character, Francesca Giordano, works for Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most important people in Christendom as his poisoner. It is a job that she had to murder a person to get, a job that she felt it was her right to have based on the fact that her father had previously held the position. Her father had been murdered, and she demands to see justice--or is it vengeance--whereas it seems that no one seems to care about what happened to her father, and she sees fit to take it upon herself to find them. Thus enters her foray into the political and religious intrigue of 15th century Rome, and soon earns the attention of the same force that murdered her father.This book is eloquently written from the start, with almost a Victorian flare of description and flow of the story. The prelude to the story drew me into wanting to continue reading this book and caused me to drop the other books I was currently reading to focus more on this particular book. Unfortunately, the prose that the book is written in slowed the story down in its early going, and the first 20 pages were less than exciting as I struggled to understand fully what was going on. After that, however, the story really took off on a nonstop adventure through the streets of Rome and the underbelly of the Vatican as Francesca struggled to make sure that her master became elected pope, not only for her sake and his, but the very survival of the Jewish population in Rome, which depended on Borgia's election as well. Once it starts, the action doesn't stop through the book at all, continuing right up to the very end, making it hard to put the book down. However, the conclusion of the book does seem a bit rushed. Most of the story unfolds over the course of a couple of days, and then the four days of the sealed conclave to elect the pope was given a scant few pages at the end.Overall, I think this is one of the better books I have read in a while and would read other books by Sara Poole, especially if they pick up the story of Francesca in her quest for vengeance.
I was provided a copy of the book pre-release date in exchange for my review.There are few books that gather my attention more sharply than this has in recent years!Poison is the story of Il Cardinale Rodrigo Borgia, in the summer of 1492, and the events both prior to and immediately following the death of Pope Innocent VIII on July 25th of that fateful year. And it is the story of Borgia's own poisoner.We are introduced to the ruthlessness of Rodrigo Borgia and his desire to ascend to the papal throne, as well as that of his offspring, the infamous Lucrezia, and the warrior, Cesare.This entire story is told through the eyes of the poisoner, Francesca Giordano, who has followed her murdered father's path into the career of Borgia's poisoner.Murder, mayhem, sex, and bribery run rife as the rivalry for the papal office draws nearer. And only Francesca, and the career her father has trained her for, can bring calm to the day.Based on fact, the fiction work is superb in every sense.I give this a five star rating.