Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn

This is the story of the infamous Borgia family as told from the first person points of view of Giulia Farnese, the Pope’s mistress, and her cook Carmelina, and bodyguard Leonello. The addition of these latter two fictional characters was welcome, since without them it would have been a rather flat, one dimensional romance story. But Carmelina and Leonello’s stories give us a glimpse into the commoner’s world and allowed the author some more creative freedom. Meanwhile, Giulia’s point of view (and a little of Leonello’s and Carmelina’s too) gives us a window into the world of a very complex and fascinating family.

At times, some of the characters seemed a little too modern but they were compelling characters who made their stories really come to life. The protagonists are flawed but likeable and some of the characters continued to surprise me. I really enjoyed watching Giulia grow up and figure out what is important to her. I enjoyed waiting for the inevitable to happen when Carmelina’s past caught up with her. Though Leonello’s character did remind me of Tyrion, the author swears she had developed his character before she read Game of Thrones (and for those who haven’t read Game of Thrones, the character Tyrion is similar to Leonello). In a way, that is a testament to how good the characters in this novel are: great minds think alike, after all.

Although the novel was written in first person multiple points of view, which I don’t normally love, I hardly even noticed it, perhaps because it was just so well written that it didn’t matter. I think what I enjoyed most about this novel, apart from the characters, was the attention to cultural detail, not only in the food descriptions (which have been praised enough in plenty of other reviews, so I won’t repeat them) but also with elements such as the mentions of different accents and dialects. It’s easy to think the book is set in Italy so the Italian characters would all have Italian accents - but with Quinn’s attention to detail, characters notice when another character has a Venetian accent instead of a Roman accent. It’s this kind of attention to detail that brings the setting to life and does it with ease; the descriptions are full and rich but you’ll never feel like they bog down the story. The plot certainly isn’t neglected even amid all these rich descriptions and characters. While Giulia initially spends much of her time sitting around beautifying herself for her Pope in the beginning, we get to watch Carmelina come into her own in the kitchens, and Leonello attempts to investigate a serial killer. But Giulia is more than just a trophy mistress and she proves it in the second half.

It ended on a cliffhanger though, so if you’re the type of person who hates that, this might not be for you. However, the second book is out now so if you’re happy to just immediately pick up the second book, the cliffhanger shouldn’t be a problem. I bought the sequel literally the moment I finished this one, I am really looking forward to where the author takes the sequel.

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