The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis

A little over a year ago, I reviewed The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis. A few months ago, I picked up her newest work: The Scarlet Contessa about Caterina Sforza, as told through the eyes of her lady-in-waiting Dea.

Admittedly, one of the things that drew me to this story aside from Kalogridis’s name was the fact that Dea uses the “triumph cards”, what are purported to possible be the predecessors to the modern tarot deck.  The story itself begins rather slowly, as you are taken through flashback from the beginning of the book. Dea lies in bed, trying to sleep while Her Illustriousness Caterina Sforza is having sex with her secretary in her bed just beyond the curtain of the alcove where Dea’s cot sits. Suddenly, they are burst upon by castle guards telling them that Cesare Borgia and his army are upon them.

From there, we are swept into Dea’s past, her former life under the care of Duchess Bona, wife of the selfish, violent, and lecherous Duke Galeazzo of Milan and her life’s entanglement with Duke Galeazzo’s “natural” daughter Caterina  Sforza. Bereft of her husband at an early age, Dea struggles to find the reason behind his gruesome death. In so doing, she finds herself in the midst of political, carnal, and even supernatural goings-on between Caterina, the de Medicis, the Borgias, and even the throne of the Papacy itself. Dea can no more separate herself from Caterina as she can separate muscle from bone and so they must navigate the truly dangerous political landscape of Renaissance Italy together if they are to survive and Caterina is to fulfill her destiny as one of the greatest rulers and warriors that Italian history has ever seen.

Once again, I think that Kalogridis triumphs with this book (no pun intended. Even though it started out slowly and I found myself rereading at times to make sure that I had understood something correctly, it came to the point that I could not put this book down and even found myself pulling out a tarot deck that I had been given as a gift several years ago to give myself a visual to compare with Dea’s readings within Kalogridis’s pages.

You alternately despise and adore Caterina as she courses down her path in life and Dea’s confusions, anger, fear, and hope radiate through the pages until you are sure they are your emotions and not only the characters. I truly, truly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with a love for intrigue, socio-political battles, and a touch of a airy star.

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