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“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: ‘Poison.'”*
What an opening to a page-turner of a book! Especially when the protagonist, Francesca Giordano, immediately admits that she’s the one who killed him.
Francesca’s father was Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia’s poisoner. When he dies, Francesca vows to have her revenge, and the best way to do that is to take over his position. One death later, she does. The role of poisoner isn’t just about poisoning others; it’s also about keeping your charge safe. There’s a power-play for the papacy going on, and Borgia is in the thick of it. Can Francesca protect him and avenge her father?
I loved this book! Francesca was a great character. She’s so very earnest in her narration. Her tone actually reminded me a little of Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes’ protegee. She’s very confident in her abilities as a poisoner, but she soon realizes that she’s up against a very clever opponent. She could have remained over-confident, but she adjusts her thinking. She’s also living in a time when anyone outside the “norm” is a heretic and only fit for poverty and starvation at best. She’s open-minded enough to learn the lessons that she needs to. She likes to kill and that disturbs her a little. She thinks of herself as a creature of the darkness. She doesn’t realize that she’s working for the light in a roundabout way. She can only think of her actions and her theological questions and assume that she’s probably doomed. But she still continues to do her best.
Francesca’s narrative irritated me a little when the author just couldn’t let some little bits of trivia go. She’d obviously done a lot of research, and she’d found some interesting things. They didn’t have anything to do with the story, but Francesca would all of a sudden bust out with a tidbit about the papacy or something. I’ve already mailed the book on, so I can’t find an example. You’ll have to take my word for it. And then there were the times when she’d be all, “Well, to kill a person like that you would mix this with…. Oh, wait. I don’t want to teach you how to kill. Moving on.” Yes, I’m paraphrasing, but that was the essence of it. Luckily, it didn’t happen often enough to ruin the book, but I hope those kinds of things are edited out in the rest of the series.
One thing that was nice, if a little, um, unrealistic, is that every man in Francesca’s circle is drop-dead gorgeous. I didn’t mind the mental eye-candy, but it did get to the point where I kind of rolled my eyes every time a new hottie entered the scene. Romance was not the focus of the book at all, or else that might have fit in a little better.
Speaking of eye candy…
I have a new book crush! Rocco Moroni is the hottest single dad I’ve met on the page. He’s an ex-priest and currently a well-muscled glass blower, but he’s also a thoughtful, intelligent, caring man with hidden depths. How often do all those adjectives go together? I’m looking forward to seeing more of Rocco.
The mystery and the action kept me turning pages. I didn’t know who was responsible until Francesca did, and after that I was concerned that he just might get away with it. Everything fit together well, except for an unlikely escape that I had to brush aside, and I was very pleased with how everything worked out.
When I finished this book, I was left wanting to read more about Francesca and Rocco. I was delighted to see that this is the first in a series! Considering that this book was just published, I’ll have to wait a while for the next book, but I will be eagerly awaiting it.
Fans of strong female protagonists in historical fiction will eat this one up. Historical mystery fans will love it too. I highly recommend it.
*Quote is taken from an ARC and may differ from the final version of the book.