The second of Sarah Dunant's novels about the Borgias, and her fifth set in Renaissance Italy. She is a superb writer. She has a rare talent as a novelist/historian. Her books are rooted as much in historical fact as she is able, and her dazzling imagination brings the daily lives of these extraordinary people alive - you know what they taste, what they smell of, what they wear, how they clean themselves, what illnesses they suffer and what diseases they carry. She marries this imaginative intimacy with the epic narrative of Italian and Western European history of the period. It is gorgeous, intoxicating, gripping and ultimately very moving. I was surprised to find how emotional I was at the end of reading it. Her characters - these real historical rulers - had lived with me in my head. Her research has been vast and must have been enormously hard work, but she never writes to show off her knowledge: a rare and valuable accomplishment.
(If you haven't read her previous books, then best start with her previous Borgias novel, Blood and Beauty - better still with her trilogy of novels centring on ordinary women in Renaissance Italy. )