About the Author
Sarah Bower is a literature development officer for Creative Arts East. She teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia. She was UK editor of the Historical Novels Review for two years until the beginning of 2006, when she stepped down to make more time for her own writing. She is the author of the forthcoming novel The Needle in the Blood.
Reading Group Guide
1. One might say that one of the main themes of Sins of the House of Borgia is motherhood. Do you agree? How is this theme explored in relation to Esther/Violante, Vannozza, Angela and Lucrezia?
2. Early in the book, Cesare makes his contempt for religion plain, yet later he tells Violante he believes in the Garden of Eden and later still, after his father’s death, he shows conspicuous piety. Which do you think is the pose, his faith or his atheism?
3. When Lucrezia first meets Violante, she expresses disillusionment with the position of women in society. ‘”Why, child, she waits, like any other woman. For a husband, for childbirth...”’ To what extent do you think Lucrezia is a victim of her father and brother? How far do you think she acts independently in determining the course of her life?
4. What do you think about Lucrezia’s purpose in taking Esther into her household? What would you have done in her position?
5. Do you think Angela knows Lucrezia’s plan for Violante? In what way might this motivate her to befriend Violante?
6. Do you believe that Violante truly loves Cesare or is it just a girlish obsession?
7. How do you think Cesare really feels about Violante?
8. Do you think Violante was mistaken not to marry Gideon?
9. Do you think Violante does the right thing by Girolamo?
10. Who do you believe is the most honorable man in this novel? Cesare? Ferrante d’Este? Giulio? Alfonso?
11. The reign of Pope Alexander VI began with Savonarola’s challenge to the Church to clean up its act. Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses two years before Lucrezia died. How do you think the Borgia Papacy affected, if at all, the rise of European Protestantism?
12. Were the Borgias evil people, or products of their times?
13. How did the fact that the Borgias were Spanish affect the way they were regarded by their contemporaries in Italy? How has this determined what we think about them today?
14. There is an historical note at the end of the novel which tells readers what happened to the key historical figures in the story. Did you read this before reading the book, afterwards, or not at all? How do you think hindsight affects our reading of historical fiction? Does it enrich the experience or is it frustrating to always know what happened next?