Cantarella by You Higuri 4/5 stars (amazon)

I’d read a review of Cantarella and I decided that I should track down the book. It opens with the birth of Cesare Borgia under mysterious circumstances. His mother believes that his father, Cardinal Rodrigo, has sold the baby in a demonic pact. She attempts to kill her newborn son, but accidently starts a fire that the baby survives. Cesare grows up with his siblings Juan and Lucrezia. Cesare and Lucrezia share a strong bond, but Juan targets them with his anger. Cesare is treated with contempt because he is the son of a Cardinal. He literally wrestles with the forces of darkness, in the form of some amorphous tadpole-like creatures that only he can see.

As he grows older Cesare starts to negotiate his precarious position in society by learning secrets and using information to manipulate the people around him. He decides to learn the sword, which comes in handy later. He’s targeted for death by a cute blond assassin named Michelotto, but Cesare survives the encounter. The boys seem to share a special bond, tied somehow to the darkness that plagues Cesare. Although Cesare seems on track to turn into a monster as he dedicates himself to the quest for power, he has a sense of humor about his fate and it is hard not to root for him as he negotiates his way through the treacherous society of Renaissance Italy.

Higuri’s art is very expressive, capturing all the sides of Cesare’s personality as he struggles with darkness, lovingly protects his sister, and taunts Michelotto. I’m enjoying the historical fiction aspects of the plot mixed with the fantasy elements. I think the scheming of the Borgias will make this an entertaining series. It is rated 16+, for older teens. I’m looking forward to seeing what Lucrezia is like as she grows older, and Higuri hasn’t even started with all the poisonings yet!

Random note:

Did you know that an older definition of nepotism in the OED is “The showing of special favour or unfair preference to a relative in conferring a position, job, privilege, etc.; spec. such favour or preference shown to an illegitimate son by a pope or other high-ranking ecclesiastic.”?
That was your random reference librarian tidbit for the day.