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The Deadly Sisterhood    by Leonie Frieda order for
Deadly Sisterhood
by Leonie Frieda
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having very much enjoyed The Borgias TV series, I appreciated the historical background to the era that Leonie Frieda's The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527 fills in. Kipling certainly got it right when he informed us that 'the female of the species is more deadly than the male'.

This fascinating non-fiction account opens on a map of late fifteenth century Italy and family trees of all the great houses - Medici, Sforza, della Rovere, Gonzaga, Este, Borgia and Aragona. In her Introduction the author reminds us that 'Even after the passage of more than five hundred years, fifteenth-century Italy, that dangerous and exhilarating place, still glitters. Its power to dazzle remains undimmed.' She tells us that conflict was endemic and 'grizzled patrician condottieri casually asked for, and received, extortionate sums for their services.' And potentates' lives were committed to 'survival, expansion and self-glorification'; hence the Renaissance.

Frieda tells us of Renaissance princesses who 'were great in their lifetimes, and proved greater still in their bloodlines. Their descendants still occupy the few thrones that remain.' Who are these women? The Deadly Sisterhood includes (my favorite) Caterina Sforza ('She-wolf of the Romagna' and 'the most fearless woman in the Italian peninsula'); Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a Medici matriarch; her daughter-in-law Clarice Orsini; Isabella and Beatrice d'Este, sisters and rivals; and of course Lucrezia Borgia, oft wed and widowed to support her family's goals.

The author tells us that 'The Italian Renaissance was as much an age of culture and learning as of violence and deceit ... it was also a time that allowed for female greatness.' She gives them their due in The Deadly Sisterhood. If you're as intrigued by the era as I am (ever since reading Rafael Sabatini's novels), you'll appreciate it along with The Borgias series, and Sarah Dunant's wonderful historical novel, Blood & Beauty.

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