The Tigress of Forli – Review

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Books

Some friends of mine were discussing Elizabeth’s Lev’s book about Catarina Sforza, The Tigress of Forli, so I thought I’d step outside my comfort zone and take a look. I’m used to bashing about in the Wars of the Roses, so I could cope with Renaissance Italy, right?


The nobility of 15th century Italy makes the nobility of 15th century England look like a bunch of amateurs. The rollcall of murder, assassination and intrigue almost left me traumatised! Give me Warwick unlawfully executing a handful of his enemies any day.

But seriously, this is an extremely good book. A ton of careful research went into it, it’s engagingly written and the people Lev writes about are well-rounded and three dimensional. I devoured this in two marathon sessions, unable to put it down. Catarina Sforza, her family and her enemies leap off the page.

Catarina was born into privilege, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan. Women of her time and class settled down quietly, and demurely, into marriage and motherhood. But from the very start, given her father’s choice of husband, she had to step outside her expected womanly role and take charge of her family, her fortune and her estates. Her journey through life was rarely without incident. Wife, mother, widow, lover, warrior, papal prisoner… occasionally a victim and, from time to time, a woman of terrible vengeance, Catarina faced challenge after challenge and, until she came face to face with Cesare Borgia, somehow managed to come out on top.

If – in a parallel dimension, where Catarina had never been born – someone wrote a novel based on her life, there’d be howls of protest. “That would never happen!”; “Women just didn’t do that!”; “A 21st century heroine projected back in time!”. But Catarina was all Renaissance Italy. She had celebrity but she also had substance and a strong spirit. I’m very glad I took a chance on this book, though I think won’t venture into 15th century Italy too often. As fascinating a time as it was, I’m not sure I could cope with the trauma!

Stars? You want stars? Ok – this book gets the full * * * * *

  1. Rachel says:

    Great review, Karen. I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) this book as well. Much of the material is confronting, but it’s as gripping as an epic novel.

  2. Fiona Orr says:

    I have long found Renaissance Italy to be a fascinating place. Caterina was a very interesting woman, an Amazon in the original sense, and this sounds to be a book I must read – thank you for reviewing it.

  3. 1karla says:

    Another book on that long list of books I want to read… One life will never be enough 😉

  4. Laura says:

    The book sounds wonderful, and I am in agreement with those who are adding it to their lists. Another for the big stack. You had me chuckling on the second paragraph, I’ll admit, and I wish I had not been sipping coffee at the time. Renaissance Italy would be a scary place to visit. Books are much safer!

  5. Kathy Hestand says:

    I read Michael Ennis’ Duchess of Milan, which was outstanding, so I’m not surprised at how wonderful the Italian Renaissance can be to read about. You are right. The politics there could run circles around anywhere else!

    • anevillfeast says:

      And it’s not just the politics, Kathy. The murder plots, the smiling face one minute and the dagger in the back next, the inventive and imaginative executions… I’m not the most squeamish of people, but the river of blood that runs through this book is a bit confronting.
      I’ll have to keep an eye out for Ennis’s book.

  6. Trish Wilson says:

    The Sforzas of Milan? How about the Orsini of Rome both descendants and ancestors of our Royal family?

    The English rank amateurs? Mi dispiace molto.

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