=== The Author ===
Sarah Bower teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia.
This is her second full-length published novel. The first was The Needle in the Blood, which is a tale she embroidered around the making of the Bayeux Tapestry.
=== Plot Overview ===
The title of this book can be deceptive. The Book of Love is a novel about the harsh realities of a Jewish girl born in Spain in the late 15th century, whose father arranges for her to serve in the so-called Christian court of Lucrezia Borgia in Italy "for her own good".
Like most young girls, she has romantic dreams, but the love a mother has for her child is the most dominant form of love in this story.
=== Fact or Fiction? ===
In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain. This explains why the main fictional character, a young Spanish born Jewish girl would have travelled to Italy, where her father was working.
At the front of the book, as well as a map, there are helpful 15th & 16th century family trees of the two most dominant Italian families depicted in this novel. The "fathers", who accepted the children as heirs, are shown. The Afterword, at the end of the novel, lets the reader know of those cases where there is still doubt about paternity. In some cases I doubt if the mothers would have known for sure.
The head of the Borgia family tree is Rodrigo, who became Pope Alexander VI. Despite this, he was far from celibate and fathered many children, including those with two favourite mistresses.
At the head of the Este family tree is Niccolo, Marquis of Ferrara. This family includes one of Lucrezia Borgia's husbands.
Although it is stated in the Afterword that this novel lays no claim to historical accuracy, many of the people featured did exist. The author has woven together what is known about the factual characters, together with fictional ones, into a tale of the sort of thing that could have happened during this period.
The Afterword will also help to satisfy readers' curiosity about what happened to the factual characters whose full story is not covered in the novel.
=== Characters ===
I believe the characters are well portrayed by the author.
Power and selfish ambition corrupts the main characters, none of whom I could like. Softer characters at all levels in society, during these times, would not have lasted long, so they could not play major parts.
It is through the eyes of the fictional Jewish girl taken on to serve Lucrezia Borgia that the reader sees the story unfold. She starts off likeable, but inevitably she is, at least partially, corrupted by her new surroundings.
=== Readability ===
A well flowing storyline kept me wanting to read on, even though I disliked most of the characters. I wanted to see how a naïve young girl would cope with a world that her mother had no time to prepare her for.
With my scant knowledge of life in Italy during this time, I thought the balance between descriptive scene setting and the main story line was spot on.
Overall I am glad that I read this bitter-sweet story, even though at times the cruel realities of this period in history were very depressing. However, despite being a well written book, I am unlikely to read it again, due to this gloomy nature of much of the storyline.
=== Alternative ===
I have also read Jean Plaidy's earlier written novels about Lucrezia Borgia. Both authors portray Lucrezia in a similar way, but Sarah Bower's more recent novel does not suffer from the constraints of writing for a readership that would rather not know the horrid details.
Although there is not sufficient detailed lust and violent scenes in The Book of Love to attract readers who primarily look for this in their novels, there are passages that would have shocked the typical Jean Paidy fan, when her books were published in the 1950s.
I prefer Sarah Bowers' unrestricted fictional version of Lucrezia Borgia's life.
Do not read The Book of Love if you are looking for a romantic novel.
Do read it if you think you would like a well written, realistic look at the life of a high ranking servant in the courts of influential families in Italy at the beginning of the 16th century, where corruption and intrigue are rife, and life so cheap that bodies thrown into cities' rivers at night do not raise eyebrows, until someone important goes missing.
Paperback: 520 pages
Publisher: Snowbooks Ltd; UK open market ed edition (1 Jun 2008)