Today I have the awesome opportunity to host a guest post by the fabulous Kate Quinn and a giveaway of her latest novel, The Serpent and the Pearl (A Novel of the Borgias, Book One)! I am currently reading it and so far it's threatening to knock Mistress of Rome out of the #1 spot for my favorite book by Kate. Be forewarned though, this book will make you very hungry so make sure to have some munchies available!
Please enjoy the post by Kate and be sure to enter the giveaway below!
“Older Men, Younger Women: The Historical Dilemma”
I went on my first date when I was fourteen—a classic awkward trip to the movies. It didn't help that the movie we chose was the fairly awful Arthurian epic, “First Knight,” starring Sean Connery as King Arthur, Julia Ormond as Guinevere, and Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot who comes between them. The movie didn't work for me, and for one reason above all: I shook my head at Julia Ormond over my popcorn bucket and said in utter disbelief, “You picked Richard Gere over Sean Connery???” Sure, Connery was sixty-five; he had thirty-five years on Julia, and a full fifty years on me. Didn't matter: offered a choice at fourteen, I was Team Connery all the way.
This little trip down memory lane helped me get around one of the chief banes of any historical novelist's life: historical truth versus modern taboos. If you write about the past, you have to work around historical attitudes that are unpalatable to modern eyes—and believe me, this is a problem that makes us all groan. Even HF goddess Margaret George herself admitted that she had no idea how to write about the fact that Elizabeth I enjoyed a good bear-baiting. For my latest book “The Serpent and the Pearl,” I had to tackle an even bigger doozy: Age difference, or rather, that oldest of stories—the older man and the younger woman. To be specific, the famous love affair between the Borgia pope and his mistress Giulia Farnese, who was historically eighteen years old to his sixty-one. And I had no idea how to write that romance without making every reader on earth say “Blech.”
Not that age gaps are uncommon in historical couples. In almost any historical era, men waited to marry until they were financially secure enough to provide for a family, which typically meant they were older—and they married women of prime child-bearing years, i.e. young girls. Dynastic alliances made things even more extreme: think of all those little jeweled princesses sent off at twelve or thirteen to seal a treaty between kingdoms. But the relationship between Giulia Farnese and her pope was no dynastic treaty or arranged marriage: it was a love affair between a teenage girl and a man more than forty years her senior. It would be one thing if Rodrigo Borgia were just a dirty old man, and Giulia Farnese an unscrupulous gold-digger looking for a sugar daddy. But Giulia was my heroine, the furthest thing possible from an unscrupulous gold digger . . . so how could I make her choice palatable to a modern audience?
Answer: tap into my fourteen-year-old self, the girl who would have picked Sean Connery over Richard Gere. When I was a teenager, Leonardo di Caprio was the heartthrob du jour—first in “Romeo + Juliet,” then in “Titanic.” But I was different: my dream dates were more along the lines of Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, and Sean Bean—respectively twenty-nine, thirty-nine, thirty-three, and twenty-two years my senior. No denying it: my male fantasies were all mature men and not boys my age. Maybe this was due to my parents' example; they had thirty years between them, and they were the happiest couple imaginable. Or maybe it was my love of historical fiction, which meant I fantasized about guys who led armies rather than guys who led football teams, and guys who lead armies don't tend to be teenagers (well, unless you're either Edward IV or Robb Stark from “Game of Thrones”). Whatever the reason, my dream dates were all older men.
Of course, this is all in the realm of fantasy. If any man forty years my senior had actually asked me on a date when I was fourteen, I'd have called the police. But for idle fantasy, men have it all over boys. When Sean Connery from “First Knight” picks you up for the evening, you know he won't show up driving his mother's mini-van littered with fast-food wrappers. When Colin Firth from “Pride and Prejudice” invites you out to eat, you know he doesn't mean a 99 cent Frosty and a small fries at Wendy's. If Liam Neeson from from “Rob Roy” gives you a present, it wouldn't be a mixed-tape of grunge bands you've never heard of. There's no awkward pauses in the conversation because Jeremy Irons from “The Man in the Iron Mask” knows how to carry on intelligent discussions and not just stare at your chest, and there's no fumbling on the doorstep because Sean Bean from the Richard Sharpe series most assuredly knows how to kiss you goodnight without getting saliva on your chin. And those are the reasons, I decided, why the beautiful Giulia Farnese would choose sixty-year-old Rodrigo Borgia as a lover: he might not have been young and dashing, but he had charisma, humor, and older-man charm to burn, and he knew how to use it all.
Take a look at his game below, when the newly-married Giulia learns her marriage has been arranged so she can be Cardinal Borgia's mistress...
I lowered my eyelids in scorn. “And if I say no?” Could I say no? Or would I go to hell for defying a cardinal? Oh, Holy Virgin, who ever would have thought getting married would make everything so complicated?
“Say no, and you will be none the worse off.” The Cardinal rose in a rustle of scarlet silks, his majestic height dwarfing me again. “In fact, you will be considerably the richer. You’ll have a pliant young husband—he’s a spineless little coward, but he’s still a better prospect than most of those withered gray specimens who manage to wed girls like you. You’ll have enjoyed the pleasant sensation of being courted for yourself rather than your dowry, which all women should experience at least once in their lives.” A glance at the braided hair beneath my veil. “Before their bloom fades, that is.”
I threw my head back and gave him a slow arrogant smile.
His mouth curved, and he clapped a hand to his heart as though my smile had pierced it like an arrow. “And,” he concluded cheerfully, “you’ll have a casket full of sparkly things—gifts from me. I’m rather good at presents, as any of my former mistresses can tell you.”
“I don’t want your gifts.”
“Then throw them away,” he said carelessly, and took possession of my hand again. “All I want is to give them to you. It’s called being besotted, my dear. You should try it sometime.”
He turned my hand over and brushed his lips across the inside of my wrist.
So you tell me—would you give Rodrigo Borgia a chance? Maybe, maybe not—but hopefully, at least you're not thinking “Blech!”
About the Book
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
One powerful family holds a city, a faith, and a woman in its grasp—from the national bestselling author of Daughters of Rome and Mistress of Rome.
Rome, 1492. The Holy City is drenched with blood and teeming with secrets. A pope lies dying and the throne of God is left vacant, a prize awarded only to the most virtuous—or the most ruthless. The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web…
Vivacious Giulia Farnese has floor-length golden hair and the world at her feet: beauty, wealth, and a handsome young husband. But she is stunned to discover that her glittering marriage is a sham, and she is to be given as a concubine to the ruthless, charismatic Cardinal Borgia: Spaniard, sensualist, candidate for Pope—and passionately in love with her.
Two trusted companions will follow her into the Pope's shadowy harem: Leonello, a cynical bodyguard bent on bloody revenge against a mysterious killer, and Carmelina, a fiery cook with a past full of secrets. But as corruption thickens in the Vatican and the enemies begin to circle, Giulia and her friends will need all their wits to survive in the world of the Borgias.
Read an excerpt here.
About the Author
Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California . She attended Boston University, where she earned a bachelor's and master’s degree in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she’s written three previous novels set in ancient Rome -- Mistress of Rome, Daughters of Rome, and Empress of the Seven Hills -- all of which have been translated into multiple languages. Kate lives in Maryland with her husband.
For more information please visit Kate's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Passages to the Past has one copy of The Serpent and the Pearl up for grabs. Giveaway is open to US only and ends on August 23rd. To enter, please complete form below.
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