By virtue of noble birth, Lucrezia, the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, comports herself with the arrogance of privilege from an early age, raised alongside her "golden" brother, Cesare. The fortunate children live openly with Archbishop Borgia and their mother, common practice for prelates at the time.
Once the Archbishop is elected Pope Alexander VI, he installs his children (but not their mother) in specially arranged Vatican apartments with their own servants and tutors. The pope occupies his own private quarters, the appearance of purity necessary in his new role as the Vicar of Christ. The young Lucrezia has a thirst for knowledge, her source the same extensive library of classics as Cesare, who has his own aspirations as the powerful son of the ruling pope.
While the usual Machiavellian court intrigue surrounds the Borgia's, Cesare's ruthless and covetous intentions place brother and sister squarely in the vortex of violence that so defines the Borgia mythology. Their fates intricately twined, the family has vaguely incestuous ties, albeit shrouded in secrecy.
A willing pawn in her family's ambitions, Lucrezia marries three times, declared "virgin" by Pope Alexander for the second and third marriages. Inevitably, the Borgia's reign ends in a bloody battle for dominance, forever drenched in murky shades of rumor and supposition. With a sudden flash of insight, the stunned Lucrezia is finally stripped of childish dreams, cowed before the enormity of her family's betrayal.
Faunce's prodigious research adds layers of theological sophistication to this novel, piquing the reader's curiosity with unconventional permutations of accepted church dogma. As multi-faceted as an Impressionist painting, Lucrezia Borgia is intellectually rewarding, the brilliant prose an unexpected and welcome bonus.