My rating: 5 Enthusiastic Stars!
The Synopsis (from the publisher): Rome, 1492. The Holy City is drenched with blood and teeming with secrets. A pope lies dying and the throne of God is left vacant, a prize awarded only to the most virtuous--or the most ruthless. The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web...
Vivacious Giulia Farnese has floor-length golden hair and the world at her feet: beauty, wealth, and a handsome young husband. But she is stunned to discover that her glittering marriage is a sham, and she is to be given as a concubine to the ruthless, charismatic Cardinal Borgia: Spaniard, sensualist, candidate for Pope--and passionately in love with her.
Two trusted companions will follow her into the Pope's shadowy harem: Leonello, a cynical bodyguard bent on bloody revenge against a mysterious killer, and Carmelina, a fiery cook with a past full of secrets. But as corruption thickens in the Vatican and the enemies begin to circle, Giulia and her friends will need all their wits to survive in the world of the Borgias.
My review: I'm a huge fan of Kate Quinn's Rome series and have been eagerly anticipating her foray into the Renaissance and the world of the Borgias. THE SERPENT AND THE PEARL was well worth the wait!
I know a fair bit about the Borgias, but it was refreshing to see Rodrigo, Cesare, Juan, and Lucrezia as secondary characters here, allowing Guilia Farnese, Carmelina, and Leonello to take center stage. The Bride of Christ (AKA Rodrigo Borgia's concubine), the cook with secrets and a mummified hand in her pocket, and the snarky dwarf bodyguard kept me laughing and flipping pages until the wee hours of the morning. As I've come to expect from Quinn's novels, the characters are flawed, but somehow I always end up rooting for them, even when I want to throttle them. Set all that amidst the lush backdrop of the Renaissance, add a dash of political intrigue, and a dose of black humor and you've got a riveting novel from cover to cover!