|Francesca Giordano, now an orphan, has succeeded her father in his position as official poisoner of the Borgia family. She is employed by Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI, who was installed a year prior in 1493. It is her responsibility to keep Pope Alexander from harm but to do harm to his enemies. It is an odd lot in life for a young woman, and one that gives her many nightmares and prevents her from living a more traditional, normal life.
Francesca finds solace in Borgia’s son, but this too causes her guilt and angst. In addition to protecting Pope Alexander, Francesca is also attempting to avenge her father’s death. When she finds herself in the possession of knowledge that could lead to the Borgia family’s downfall, she must decide how to deal with it, protecting her employers and lover, while seeking vengeance for her father and still being able to live with herself.
The plot of the book is often disrupted by awkward sentences and repetitive narrative. As the author tries to recreate the feel and dialogue of the fifteenth-century, it often doesn’t work. Francesca is an intriguing young woman, and her position as poisoner to such an important family is interesting and offers many opportunities for anguish on Francesca’s part.
While many of her activities in this book are motivated by events in the previous novel, Poison, enough exposition is provided that readers needn’t have read it to understand what is happening Francesca struggles with many demons, some with the more recent death of her father, others from even before, making her a complex character. A glass blower named Rocco looking for a mother for his son may make a more suitable companion for Francesca but her life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
--Jennifer Monahan Winberry