A historical romance very loosely based on the real life figures Ludovico Orsini Migliorati and Adriana del Mila. In fact, it looks like Davis mashed-up all kinds of real-life people and facts and then created something new out of that. What she created was original in parts and clichéd in others.
It's really hard for me to lay out what the story is, because I can only describe the emotions and relationships between the characters as a tangled ball of yarn (though not as frustrating to unravel). Ludovico loves his wife, feels obligated to her, and expects some devotion in kind, yet she can't stand the sexual aspect of their marriage (which, to be honest, he did his darndest to instill with a violent sex drive). She wants to be his focus, however, and resents any woman that he turns to for his "needs". This is all a perfect set-up to drive someone insane, and this Adriana does, drifting in and out of sanity for the course of the story. Adriana is more or less sympathetic, but Davis gives her a edge by having her discover that she is sexually excited by representations of death in the religious art of the time. She imagines Ludovico as dead martyrs while they have sex and her madness increases with the fear and shame of her discovery. Anyway, I thought it was freaky cool and completely unexpected. Usually that type of kink is reserved for villains in the romance genre. But this is "old skool" stuff, and really nothing is set in stone re:who should act like what.
Matters are complicated by the arrival of Camilla, a woman conspired against by greedy relatives. Ludovico makes her his ward but falls in love with her almost at first sight. It is this part of the story that was more clichéd than original, because Ludovico and Camilla deliberately make themselves miserable by not telling each other anything and making a virtue out of suffering. Ludovico, whose brilliant military tactics are illustrated in a battle scene, turns into a complete idiot. Dismissing the mercenaries and their sadistic captain so he (and they) can defect to your enemy, the Colonnas? And then physically assault the same pope who is the ONLY thing between you and the Colonnas? Nice move there, genius.
So it was this retarded downturn that made me want the book to end. Before that, I was riveted and having a grand time. So, 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. This book is actually a prequel to Davis' A Passion in the Blood, which focuses entirely on Lucrezia Borgia. In this book, Lucrezia is mentioned as having been Ludovico and Adriana's ward for a time. (In history, Ludovico died first and Adriana alone was given guardianship of Lucrezia.) I'm still looking forward to reading it, despite the "meh" ending of this one. Davis has some great turns of phrase and is a no-frills writer. So if you tend to avoid the old skool romances because of purple prose, you might want to give this one a try.