The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Synopsis from publisher:
Daughter of the Duke of Milan and wife of the conniving Count Girolamo Riario, Caterina Sforza was the bravest warrior Renaissance Italy ever knew. She ruled her own lands, fought her own battles, and openly took lovers whenever she pleased.
Her remarkable tale is told by her lady-in-waiting, Dea, a woman knowledgeable in reading the “triumph cards,” the predecessor of modern-day tarot cards. As Dea tries to unravel the truth about her husband's murder, Caterina single-handedly holds off invaders who would steal her title and lands. However, Dea's reading of the cards reveals that Caterina cannot withstand a third and final invader - none other than Cesare Borgia, son of the corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who has an old score to settle with Caterina. Trapped inside the fortress at Ravaldino as Borgia's cannons pound the walls, Dea reviews Caterina's scandalous past and struggles to understand their joint destiny, while Caterina valiantly tries to fight off Borgia's unconquerable army.
Jeanne Kalogridis novels are such a guilty pleasure - I've been addicted to "kings and queens" stories ever since I discovered Jean Plaidy as a teenager, and for me there is nothing like getting lost in the world of carriages and corsets and political intrigue to help me relax at the end of the day.
Kalogridis mainly writes about women, and brings them to life in ways not seen in history books. Her Catarina Sforza is strong-willed and impetuous, but also generous and loving, intelligent and passionate. She holds her own with the powerful men in her life, and does her best to beat them at their own game. Catarina is truly a remarkable woman, and I was fascinated with her story.
In fact, my biggest issue with the novel is that, while it is supposed to be the story of Catarina, it is written from the perspective of Dea, Catarina's servant. Dea is certainly an interesting character, and her story intriguing in it's own right, but I was never as compelled to learn what was going to happen to her next. Much of the book was taken up with Dea's struggles, and I found myself wishing we could get more of Catarina's story instead.
But really, it's a minor quibble - I read these novels for the escapism they afford, and The Scarlet Countess fully delivered in that regard. It was full of romance and danger and political maneuvering, and it was a lot of fun to read. If you like historical fiction, don't pass this one up.
Source: South Side library
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual situations and violence
My rating: 7/10