Discussion: Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance (The Poisoner Mysteries #1) by Sara Poole

SPOILER ZONE!!!

Read my review here.

1. Francesca Giordano lives at a time when civilization is being revitalized by new perceptions and ideas that threaten the existing power structure. How does the struggle between the two shape this story and the challenges that Francesca faces?

Francesca is part of that “new perception/idea”.  She is a woman in a man’s world.  She is the Borgia’s poisoner and was even sneaked in to the conclave in order to keep Il Cardinale safe.  In a way, Borgia is a force behind that change.  He has a goal and is willing to do anything – ANYTHING – to get it.  In a way, Francesca’s association with Borgia makes her life easier.

2. Over the course of this story, Francesca kills at least twice and possibly three times. Can her actions be justified morally?

Is there an excuse – apart from self-defense – to take another life?  Personally, I don’t think there is any.  Some cultures accept the killing of one person out of revenge.  Eye for an eye.  I’ve heard it said that it is not a sin to kill if you don’t enjoy it.  But what if you don’t feel anything when you do it?  No remorse, no fear, no nothing.  First time she kills, it was because she needed that person to be out of the way.  It is for personal gain.  Second time, out of revenge for the death of her father.  And if we assume that she did kill Pope Innocent, well, that’s because Borgia told her to, albeit indirectly.  So… no, it cannot be justified.

3. While she yearns for the glassmaker, Rocco and the life she could have had with him, Francesca does not hesitate to pursue a relationship with Cesare Borgia that is sexual and more. Is she hypocritical in having feelings for both men or is she drawn to each for different reasons?

Have you seen Cesare Borgia?  I mean, really?  Who wouldn’t?  =D

I kid, I kid.  I believe she is attracted to both men for different reasons.  She is attracted to Cesare because he was an attractive, powerful, smart, virile man.  Being in his favor had its benefits.  Francesca is attracted to him physically and Cesare’s charm and charisma made it hard for her to say no.  The secrecy made it exciting for her and Cesare.  On the other hand, she is attracted to Rocco because he has stability.  He has established himself, as a profitable business, and most of all, he has a son.  He can provide for his family.  Rocco is simple, an opposite of Cesare.

4. Francesca has a complex relationship with her employer, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. How much do you think the Cardinal knows about Francesca’s past? What role may he have played in the murder of her father?

From what I’ve read abut Rodrigo Borgia, he was a cunning and very intelligent man.  Every step he took, every word he uttered was a step closer to realizing one of his many goals.  Up to the point that he abuses his power and misuses the very Scripture that he was sworn to abide by.  I think Borgia knows full well about Francesca’s past but speaks none of it because he saw how useful she could be in the greater scheme of things.  And Francesca had proven herself trustworthy and reliable.  As for her father’s murder, it is possible that he knew details of it but I don’t think it was his word that put the pieces in motion.

5. In modern terms, Francesca suffers from post-traumatic shock related to an event early in her life. In a time before psychoanalysis, she can understand her condition only as the act of a supernatural agent, either God or the Devil. What factors in her life may prompt her to look elsewhere for the true cause of her distress as well as the path to resolving it?

Every time she talks about what is eating her inside, I think it is her conscience talking.  Having been raised a God-fearing Catholic, in the House of Borgia where the head of the house was a Cardinal, I think she lived by the teaching of the Holy Word.  She believed that if she did wrong, she would be punished for it.  And that’s a normal thing to think about.

What can change her perception of that is Borgia himself.  I mean, he kept on doing these “bad things”, directly or indirectly, but it didn’t seem like he was punished for it.  Was Borgia a bad man because he did these things?  If so, is Francesca a bad person for killing?  Is it the Devil telling her to do these bad things and she’s merely succumbing to temptation?  It is her guilt talking and to me, the fact that she lets her guilt take over her tells me that she is still a good person.

6. The discovery that her late father was a “converse,” a convert from Judaism to Christianity, shocks Francesca and makes her question what else he concealed from her. But it also opens her to new perspectives and relationships. Is the uncovering of hidden truths always beneficial or are there times when secrets should remain unspoken?

I believe that the truth will set you free.  “You” meaning both the secret keeper and the one kept in the dark.  One might have questions about their lives and who they are and the TRUTH is the only answer to that.  Finding out that her father was a conversi made it easier for her to connect with the Jewish community that helped her hugely in her cause.  She related better to their situation thus drove her desire to help them.  Truths aren’t always what we want to hear but at the end of the day, we need to hear them.

7. Francesca regards the priest Bernando Morozzi as the embodiment of evil yet she also fears that they are alike in some ways. Is she right in either regard? In both?

I actually thought that Borgia was more evil than Morozzi was in the book.  Alike?  Maybe.  I mean, they do have a common goal and that is to kill Pope Innocent.  But more than that?  I don’t know if Morozzi feels remorse but I know Francesca does.  There wasn’t much on Morozzi on the book apart from what he did, so I cannot full answer this.

8. Lucrezia Borgia is depicted very differently in this story from much of what has been written about her. Why do you think she has been portrayed in such dark terms historically? Did being a woman make her more vulnerable to exploitation by her family’s enemies?

I’ve always thought that Lucrezia Borgia in fictional literature was a bit exaggerated.  Some claim that she was the original poisoner.  That could be true but there was not many records of that.  In fact, Cesare was the more… shall I say, vicious of the four Borgia children.  I think the literature got very attached to Lucrezia because she was the only girl in this powerful family (not really the ONLY girl but she was the most prominent).  Poor Lucrezia became a pawn in her father’s quest for the Papacy and power.  She was just a child when she was married off and she never really enjoyed being a kid or being in love.

One thing that is consistent in the different portrayals of Lucrezia is that she starts off as this sweet and innocent child.  From the moment she gets married off to Giovanni Sforza, it goes downhill from there.

9. As Rodrigo’s son, Cesare Borgia has access to great power yet he cannot use it to claim the life he truly wants. What acts might his frustration give rise to?

He wanted to be the one in armor.  His father wanted him to be his son in the cloth.  Cesare loves his father, his family very much that’s why he went on with his father’s plan.  (This is where I felt like Juan should’ve made an appearance.)  As the one in the cloth, he couldn’t defend his family from armed forces.  He was to study; Rodrigo wanted him to follow in his footsteps.  And this Cesare does, to the T.  For example, even though ordained, he took lovers as his father did with Giulia Farnese.

The book does not really feature Cesare’s frustrations about his situation.  He was able to carry arms in one part of the book, even to have an opportunity to kill.

10. Throughout this story, poison appears as a metaphor for the stain of corruption running through the highest levels of society. Is a similar metaphor appropriate in our own time and if so, where?

Definitely.  Come to think of it, so little have changed.  In the book, poison was a weapon.  Poison caused death.  Poison was a means to an end; a way to get rid of obstacles.  Today, the poison is money… power.  Too much of the good thing can kill you.  An abuse of power can earn you enemies.  Hubris can explode on your face and it can shame you.

11. What role do you think the corruption of the popes and other high-ranking prelates of this time played in triggering the rebellion against Catholicism that we know as the Reformation? Were there internal reforms the Catholic leadership could have taken that might have prevented the Reformation from happening?

They could have practiced what they preached, for starters.  They are ordained priests, bishops, cardinals, popes… but they broke the three vows they swore to follow: Celibacy – they had many mistresses and children; Poverty – they had castles to house their families; and Obedience – they obeyed no one but themselves.  Just because they are high-ranking prelates it didn’t mean they were any closer to God than your everyday layman.  it did not excuse them from any earthly sin.

At that time, all of them had an agenda.  So internal reforms would’ve been useless.  I think it needed something HUGE to happen for a system to change and the Reformation was it.

12. If Rodrigo Borgia’s dream of a papal dynasty controlled by his family had succeeded, what would have been the implications for his time? For ours?

It would’ve been his version of a monarchy.  Only it would affect more than just Rome or Italy, but the whole Catholic community.  (But then again, there were no mentions of Juan or Giofre… Cesare wouldn’t have become pope if you follow canon history.  Juan died and Cesare left the Orders to become the son in armor as he always wanted.)

Who knows how long the Borgia dynasty would’ve lasted…

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