As befits the story of a poisoner for the infamous Borgia Pope Alexander VI, Sarah Poole’s The Borgia Betrayal begins with murder, as the protagonist forces one of the Pope’s enemies to end his own life quickly. What may be unusual about this novel is that the poisoner who deals in death so easily is a woman, Francesco Giordano. She is an interesting heroine, operating in the male-dominated world of the Catholic Church with a reckless bravado and cunning that matches that of the Borgias.
In this sequel to Poole’s Poison, Francesca serves the Pope’s interests as well as her own. She is part of a secret society called Lux, whose purpose contravenes the Church’s dogma and takes great risks to keep Lux and its members safe. Her activities do not escape the Pope, who uses her as a pawn to draw out one of their mutual enemies, Bernando Morozzi. He threatens the Pope’s hold over Rome, but more importantly, he is responsible for the death of Francesca’s father. Francesca devises a bold plan to draw out her father’s killer, placing her own life in the balance.
Francesca’s daring earned my admiration for Ms. Poole’s talents as a writer, but there were times where I questioned the wisdom of certain actions. It seemed almost as if the heroine had a death wish, yet she fought so valiantly at the end of the story. While I had difficulty reconciling some of the extremes of her personality, Francesca is a memorable character and I hope to read more of her adventures in Ms. Poole’s novels.