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Cardinal Roderigo Borgia is charismatic and handsome, a born leader and a perfidious man of the cloth who ascends to the papacy as Pope Alexander VI in 1492, when Italian city-states are competing for land and the Vatican is competing for souls. He is also the loving father of four children, two of whom become pawns in their father’s implacable drive for power. Cesare, Roderigo’s oldest son, grows from an insecure cardinal to a fierce military leader; and Lucrezia, Roderigo’s beautiful, seductive daughter — and her father’s favorite (not to mention her brother’s incestuous bedmate) — becomes the marriage link that unites nations and divides hearts. Throughout Roderigo’s wheeling and dealing, the Renaissance is in full swing as religion competes against humanism and the Church seeks autonomous control of what will one day become a united Italy. As in E. L. Doctrow’s Ragtime and Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil, historical figures pepper the narrative. Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci (whose military inventions help Cesare kick some serious tail), and Ferdinand and Isabella all make guest appearances, though at times they seem more like window dressing than actual characters
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