An undemanding historical novel based on the bloody career of Caterina Sforza during the Italian city-state wars which enlivened the 15th century. Married at fourteen to cruel Girolamo, eldest son of Pope Sixtus IV, Caterina bears him six children along with her everlasting hatred, and is at last free when Girolamo is assassinated. By her wit and stamina, Caterina takes over her cities and annexes a lover who becomes her husband, even if he's a commoner. But he too is killed, and Caterina consoles herself by seeing that bodies are quartered and throats are cut, while she preserves her lands by keeping a careful diplomatic neutrality between Milan and Rome, Florence and the French. One more husband, an intellectual de Medici (who expires of natural causes), and she is at last defeated by the forces of Cesare Borgia. The author makes little attempt to explain how such a woman evolved--""the world has forced me"" is all she says to herself about the killings she had ordered. No better and no worse than most popular equivalents.