Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance
By Sara Poole
St. Martin’s Griffin
In an attempt to branch out in my historical fiction reading, I’ve been auditioning time periods outside of 14th – 19th Century England which encompasses a large portion of my historical fiction reading. On finding out Poison was set during the Italian Renaissance, I quickly added it to my list. It also helped the Borgia family had a role as I find their abhorrent behavior highly fascinating. Unfortunately, it didn’t impress as I wanted it to.
Francesca Giordana is grieving the death of her father, a man whose murder remains unresolved and a man who happened to be the poisoner of Rodrigo Borgia — a notorious and well-known man in the city of Rome. In an attempt to keep her place in the Borgia household following her father’s death, Francesca makes a bold move by killing the new poisoner in a most unusual way causing Borgia to hire her on the spot. Unfortunately for Francesca, Borgia has a plan to become Pope and it involves her abilities as a poison master to bring about his Papal reign. Her involvement in the conspiracy to kill Pope Innocent will send in her into the depths of the Jewish Ghetto and the bowels of the Vatican endangering everyone she loves.
There was a good combination of elements: conspiracy to poison Pope Innocent for Borgia to have a chance at the Papacy, the murder of Francesca’s father, and a high up attempt to expel the Jews out of Rome by a mad priest bent on having his demented way. In some ways it felt as if the story was moving in too many directions though. I enjoyed the plot to poison Pope Innocent and Francesca’s role in it but all her other interests were too much and it began to burst for me. At the end of the story, some plots were wrapped up but several others were still in play for the sequel which I’m actually all right with.
Another problem I had was the dialogue — it felt entirely too modern for the time period and at times I wanted to google the language used to see if it was appropriate. Francesca was another issue for me. She is a poisoner yet faints at the sight of blood. Yes, I get trying to have her be the poisoner with a heart but she was too much for me. If you’re going to plot killing people, willingly and knowingly, get rid of the heart or at least compartmentalize your feelings. You can’t have it both ways; it’s not believable. The second problem was her love life. Sadly, the love element which was small was something I wanted more of and it was only hinted at here. I’m guessing it will come about in book two, The Borgia Betrayal.
If you’re familiar with the Borgia family this isn’t bad but I think I was expecting something entirely different. Even though I wasn’t totally sold on the book, it was a fast read and if you’re looking for historical fiction set in the Renaissance, it’s a nice change of pace.