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[Review] The Borgia Dove by Jo Graham

1492: Giulia Farnese is the mistress of the powerful Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. Educated, brave and ambitious, Giulia revels in the art and ideas of the Renaissance and in her newfound influence as the consort of one of the leaders of the humanist movement within the Vatican. The gifts of prophecy and magic that made her a weapon against Rodrigo but allowed her to save his life are gone with her virginity - or so she thinks...

The Borgia Dove is the second instalment of Jo Graham's Borgia Sibyl series and continues on from where A Blackened Mirror left off. If you would like to catch up with the story, you can check out my review here.

The focus of this tale is once again on Giulia Farnese and her role as Rodrigo Borgia's mistress - it is 1492 and Rome is about to be sent into an uproar with the election of a new Pope. Rodrigo must be locked within the walls of the Vatican to take part in the political chess game and fight to win the greatest prize in the Christian world - the papal tiara. Giulia wishes to help her lover gain his most coveted prize but alas, she cannot use the magical powers that she possesed in the first book. She lost the powers of the Dove when she gave her virginity. Instead she must use her wiles and her own political prowess to help Rodrigo play the game and win.

What I loved the most about this book was seeing how Giulia interacted with the rest of the Borgia family. She is close to the young Lucrezia - she is just 12 years old and curious about the world, childlike and yet keen to grow up and become a woman. The historical Lucrezia was certainly intelligent, beautiful and politically astute but has gone down in history as one of the most infamous women. We of course know now that she was not the poisoning harlot that enemies of the family made her out to be. In this tale, there is no mention of the infamy that comes Lucrezia's way and it is a true joy to behold. Instead we get a young girl who is keen to learn the ways of the world, and who loves her family deeply. And then there is Cesare - Graham has done a wonderful job here with his characterisation. We know he was good looking and that he hated his part in the church. We know that he loved women. And we know that he certainly held a lot of youthful arrogance. Graham's Cesare has all of this in spades and as I read, I could honestly imagine that this could so easily have been the real Cesare Borgia. Giulia interacts also with Vanozza Cattanei and I loved the fact that there was no malice between the two women but a mutual respect. It is not a relationship that is really looked into by historians and I have often wondered just how they would have gotten along. These interacts are truly a delight to read. The characterisation and the weaving of Renaissance Rome just brings the whole thing to life. You are thrown into the world and the people within, your heart bursting with happiness at the love that is shown and then thrown into despair when tragedy hits. It is truly a work of art.

Like A Blackened Mirror there is an element of the fantastical to this tale. It is not your cut and dry historical novel that tries to retell everything exactly as it happens although Graham has certainly done her research. She weaves fantasy into real historical events to create something new. In the previous book, Giulia had the powers of the Dove meaning that she was able to see demons and become involved in magical plots. In the book's lore, a Dove loses her power when she loses her virginity. By rights Giulia should have lost these powers and to start with she thinks she has - but it soon becomes clear that this is not the case. Her powers once more come to the fore, allowing her to see things and to stop those who would do her and her loved ones harm. This makes The Borgia Dove something different. It adds a layer to the novel that doesn't take away from the real history the story is based on. We have real historical events. Real historical people. But there is something mystical about it all.

Romance, of course, has a massive part to play. And why would it not? Giulia is the mistress of Rodrigo Borgia. She is often among women who are courtesans or mistresses of other powerful men. Sex is a central part of her life. Yet it is clear that Giulia loves Rodrigo. She isn't with him for his money or power - though many she comes across think those are her goals. But the sex is this isn't sleazy at all. It's not there just for the sake of it like what happens in other novels. It plays a part in the story.

Graham has done another EXCELLENT job here. The second novel in the Sybil series only cements the fact that she is going to be a powerhouse in the world of historical fiction - and that will be a well deserved title. I just adore how Graham weaves words and creates these beautiful tapestries. I can't wait to see what happens in the next novel, and more importantly just how she takes on the changing roles of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. They are, after all, growing up and things aren't going to be easy for those siblings. Nor will they be easy for Giulia and Rodrigo. Time will tell how Graham deals with this but let me tell you, I have very high hopes.


I would like to extend a massive thank you to Candlemark & Gleam for the review copy of this book.

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