Published 2011, St. Martin’s Press, ISBN 978-0-312-60453-0 (hardcover) ISBN 978-0-312-60984-9 (trade paperback), 389 pages

The Borgia Betrayal is Sara Poole’s second historical fiction novel.  Her preceding novel was “Poison”.  She states in the interview at the end of The Borgia Betrayal that each historical novel is a standalone book, but I have to disagree with that.  There were several instances of back referencing to events that occurred in “Poison”; so much that a reader who has not read that book would not have a complete understanding of The Borgia Betrayal.

Francesca is employed by Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, as his personal poisoner.  Her duties include ensuring the Pope is not poisoned, as well as carrying out orders to use her craft in a deadly fashion on unfortunates discovered plotting the Pope’s demise.

Francesca is one of the best characters I have come across.  She is not your typical woman; married, raising a family and taking care of a household.  While she often wishes this is the case, the dark side of her nature prevents this.  And she does have a brutal streak.

Francesca learned her art at the knees of her father, who was subsequently murdered.  She earned her position as Rodrigo Borgia’s poisoner after her father’s death by proving her abilities.  It is Francesca’s mission in life to avenge her father’s death.

Aside from revenge, Francesca must be constantly alert for any threat against Pope Alexander VI, his illegitimate sons and daughter.  The Borgias being the Borgias – scheming, ruthless and sibling hatred being a few of their dubious qualities – there is no end of enemies who would be most delighted to remove the Pope from his Papal Chair.  In this second novel, Francesca must foil a plot to do just that.

Her mercurial lover proves to be a complication in her endeavors to prevent the plot from succeeding.   Francesca calls on her Jewish friends, not a well-favored people during the Renaissance, to help her trap a wily enemy with a plan which might end with Francesca’s death to be successful.

Friends, when you are the Pope’s poisoner, are hard to come by as you are generally regarded as a dangerous individual to be avoided if at all possible.  Therefore, Francesca’s friends are few, but loyal.

As I mentioned earlier, Francesca is one of my favorite characters.  She narrates the story as if she is speaking to you regarding the events of the day.  At times, she can be quite humorous, while, at others, she reveals the demons she struggles with.

Sara Poole says there will be more historical fiction novels featuring Francesca in the future.  I, for one, look forward to the next instalment.  I thoroughly enjoyed Poison and The Borgia Betrayal because of their uniqueness.

One caution, read Poison first.  Otherwise, while you can follow the plot of The Borgia Betrayal, you will miss out on certain nuances which enhance the novel.

Rating:   Four Stars **** (Excellent)

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