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I spoke too soon about the CGI effects in Magnificent Century.

For the Siege of Belgrade, the pitched battle was depicted by showing (effectively) still shots of the major characters accompanied by waves of blood splashing across the screen. It was not tasteful, nor pleasant.

I do give the show some credit, though. They tried to balance portrayal on screen of both the goings-on within the royal palace and with Suleiman and his court in the field. This requires somehow portraying a massive army on the march and huge battles, all on a TV-series budget. They did try.

The other effect that smacked me across the head is one that I’ve seen before in 80s shows (or maybe it was 90s. The Sharpe series is one that springs to mind). Magnificent Century‘s use of electric guitar to score a period drama is also not a good production choice. To me, it made the show seem at least 20 years older than it is.

I’m also surprised at how thoroughly the soap-opera plot has grabbed me. The episodes tend to have cliff-hanger endings, particularly when it comes to the conflicts between the various female main characters. I find myself craving to find out how the latest cat fight is going to turn out. It is embarrassing to admit it, but it is true.

I’m also continuing on with The Pillars of The Earth, and this is a story that seems to snowball in intensity as a rolls along. Where I had started with reading a handful of pages at a go, I now find myself staying up to all hours to advance from chapter to chapter. I also notice the author pulling in more and more of the significant events of the time period, directly linking them to his narrative. Maybe a bit obviously, the White Ship plays an active role in the story.

In another part of the story, our hero finds himself working that the Toledo School of Translators, whose existence I only recently became aware by having watched The Day the Universe Changed. The flood of Greek scholarship that flowed from the completion of the Reconquista and the subsequent Western access to Muslim libraries is a tremendous event in the development of Western Civilization. It is also one that I really was unaware of until I saw it in the TV series. As The Pillars of the Earth wanders around Europe a bit, the story begins to feel every bigger and bigger.

Likewise I soldier on with Blood and Beauty. It may be a mistake to read this particular book intermittently. Each time I come back to it after reading something else, the disorientation of present-tense narrative returns in full force. As always, I get used to it after a while, but at first I feel less human for having read this style of prose.

As I get further into this book, I realize that details of Blood and Beauty and the details in Borgia come pretty close to each other. I don’t think one used the other as a source. Rather, I suspect that they both have relied on the same, or at least similar, contemporary histories. Even in some cases where the story is different, you can see how one has made a slightly different interpretation of the knowns and unknowns than the other. Who killed Juan Borgia? In Blood and Beauty, we know it is not Cesare because the narrative of the book has access to his inner thoughts. We also know it is not Lucrezia, because her motive (the killing of commoner and confidant Pedro) doesn’t occur until after the killing of Juan. In the book, however, it is clearly shown how history will fault Cesare once other bodies pile up. Once you start killing one of your own relatives, it stands to reason that you’d be willing to kill another.

One surprise in Blood and Beauty is the prominent featuring of syphilis to the story. It is particularly potent here, at least to me, because unlike the characters in the book we are aware of both its transmissible and its potentially fatal consequences. In the book, a surprising number of major characters struggle with the disease. On TV, they were merely made gay.