Thursday, 28 April 2016

Review: The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn

Berkley Books • 393 pages

Re-read April 2016. I first read The Serpent and the Pearl about a year and a half ago in the autumn of 2014, and I really enjoyed it. Ultimately I've rounded this up a star because any book that makes me want to re-read it is worthy of five stars in my opinion. And despite having first read The Serpent and the Pearl not too long ago I think I enjoyed it more second time round, which made it all the more worthwhile because I was in desperate need of a really good book.

Kate Quinn is probably most well known for her Rome series but her novels centred on the notorious Borgia family are just as good. Like her other books the story is told through multiple narratives: Guilia Farnese, mistress to Pope Alexander VI (Papa Borgia); Carmelina, Guilia’s feisty and secretive cook; and Leonello, Guilia’s razor sharp bodyguard. The story is dark and rich and you expect nothing less from a story inspired by those sexy, sexy Borgias.

Undeniably this woman is one of my favourite authors, and her writing style has developed beautifully over the course of her novels. Quinn writes history in such an effortless style, whilst simultaneously creating a world that feels vividly real. For me, it's all about the details - details that, had they not been woven in to the text, would make the characters appear a little two dimensional; unable to be moulded in to actual flesh and blood images within the imagination. Example:

"His arms in their rolled-up sleeves were singed smooth and hairless like mine, after so much reaching in and out of hot ovens. And his hands, like mine, were marked all over with knife nicks and burn scars that told the world I am a cook.”

For a writer to tell their readers that a character is a cook is one thing, yet Quinn's writing style goes beyond labelling characters with bottomless nouns and instead gives us descriptions that perfectly provide us with an image of a person. A person who, in the context of the story, has lived, breathed, bled, felt pain, and heat, and fear. The small details make the story and you can tell she has put thought in to her writing, actually gone out there and done her homework in order to give the story that realistic edge.

The Serpent and the Pearl is a slower paced story compared to Quinn's earlier novels, but those Borgias were certainly no less interesting. There’s a build-up of tension throughout and the story is loaded with secrets and mystery. The plot flowed well and whilst there aren’t great mounds of action, the pace was kept sizzling by the atmosphere and the intrigue of the characters.

I suppose another of the reasons I loved this book so much is that I was surprised by it. Guilia, for example, I liked more than I thought I would. With the situation she gets thrown in to I felt empathy for her on the outset, but after the initial bombshell I thought my affection for her would wilt since I assumed she would do nothing but bitch and moan about it for the next 300 pages. Instead, she turns out to be this super boss, feisty, yet amiable wonder-woman who can go from demure beauty to queen-fucking-bee in a second. She's kick-ass, and would for sure be giving Kim Kardashian a run for her money if "Woman of the year" was a thing back in Renaissance Italy.

This book is brilliant and I highly recommend to anyone looking for some gritty and exciting historical fiction. 

Overall rating: 5 stars

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