Fans of Showtime’s “The Borgias” will eat up the second novel in Kate Quinn’s series about Italy’s most infamous family. In “The Lion and the Rose,” we pick up where the story ended in “The Serpent and the Pearl,” following the stories of Giulia Farnese, mistress to Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia); Leonello, her acid-tongued dwarf bodyguard; and Carmelina, her shrewd cook.
When the first book left off, the trio and the rest of their traveling party had been captured by a French army, and Leonello was gravely injured in the process of defending Giulia. As the group is returned safely back to Rome, Giulia finds out that life at the Vatican has changed in dangerous ways.
While Rodrigo was always overly lenient with his children, turning a blind eye to their escapades, he grows more and more obsessed with protecting his family, no matter how extreme the measures. Lucrezia goes from a cheerful young girl who wants to follow Giulia around to a vain, mean-spirited teenager who tries to out-do Giulia at every turn; Cesare’s schemes get even darker and Juan’s drinking and whoring results in a tragedy that no one expects. Soon Giulia realizes that she needs to get out of Rome or risk her life, and the life of her daughter.
Meanwhile, Carmelina’s secret that she’s an escaped nun is discovered by Leonello, and she’s constantly afraid that she’ll be discovered. Leonello, however, is facing his own demons, and must confront the darkness inside him when the series of murders he’s been chasing are finally solved.
The book alternates between the viewpoints of Giulia, Leonello and Carmelina, bringing a distinct voice to each character. Giulia’s character development is especially strong, and instead of following the Pope’s every command like usual, she starts to stand up to him and the rest of his family, especially when it comes to her daughter. With his bravery, determination and loyalty (mixed with a dark side) Leonello rises above the usual description of "dwarf sidekick" in historical fiction and stands taller than many heroes. Finally, an unexpected love story for Carmelina is one of the highlights of the story, and her food descriptions are enough to make anyone's mouth water.
Filled with romance, deceit, murder and a satisfying surprise twist at the end, “The Lion and the Rose” is an entertaining read that will satisfy new and old fans of Quinn.