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Mar 16, 2011

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade (March 1, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0451232151
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating: 4 stars

In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

 At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess's wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke's terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia's death-or she will share her fate.

The young Lucrezia de Medici was the first duchess to the powerful Alfonso d'Este, a Duke of Ferrara with eyes for greatness. Lucrezia was found dead in a monastery and Alfonso required a second wife. Enter Barbara, Archduchess of Austria, and they were married in 1565. Elizabeth Loupa's suspenseful novel of The Second Duchess is a thrill of a ride as Barbara tries to unravel all the mysteries of her predecessor's past. She arrives at her new court full of hope for a successful marriage and a bright future, but the demons of the past must be silenced in the only way Barbara knows how.. which is to discover the nasty truths.

Alfonso is a man to be feared. His grandmother was Lucrezia Borgia, and just that name of Borgia summons thoughts of poisons and murder. It is quite possible Alfonso murdered the first duchess.. and Barbara finds out first hand how cruel he can be. Barbara has few friends at the court of Ferrara, and those are the ones that she brought with her from Austria. Barbara is fearful but resolute.. she must find out what happened to Lucrezia de Medici so that she can silence the whispers that are told behind her back. She is in danger herself as she gets closer to the truth, and just when I think that's it.. I've got it figured out!! Another proverbial bomb drops and off we go with another was one twist after another leading this reader in and out of the story with perfect precision of suspense and ghostly apparitions. I can't go further into the story without spoiling the plot, but there are wonderful things like devious nuns, knife-wielding husbands and forbidden books! The entire focus of the novel is the suspense, so that pure historical fiction lovers who do not enjoy mysteries as much may not like this novel as much as I did. There were the mysteries behind each of the characters as we didn't know who was part of what conspiracy, but there was also the facet of the relationship between Barbara and her new husband Alfonso. I love the added layers of mystery to historical characters, so this book was a quick light read for me that was very hard to put down.

Using Robert Browning's 1842 poem "My Last Duchess" as inspiration, debut novelist Elizabeth Loupas surprises us as she masterfully reimagines the arrival of the second duchess and successfully blends historical fiction with suspense that I think fans of the two genres would love this bit of court intrigue.