“The Second Duchess” by Elizabeth Loupas
Review by Violet Yates
First and foremost, I must say, “BRAVO!” I absolutely loved this book. Elizabeth Loupas did a brilliant job knitting all of the pieces of this story together, accomplishing something a lot of authors only dream of being capable of doing.
The story, set in the 16th century Italian city-state of Ferrara, surrounds the mystery behind the death of the stunningly beautiful and youthful first Duchess of Ferrara, Lucrezia Medici; the Duke, Alfonso d’Este, was rumored to have murdered her. The Duke has married again, this time taking to wife Barbara of Austria, a twenty-six year old woman who is not known for her beauty. From the moment of her wedding, Barbara is subjected to the intrigue of the court- there seems to be no end to the gossip of the Duke’s first duchess, and she is the target of not only that, but veiled threats as well. Spurred at first by curiosity, then by necessity, Barbara takes it upon herself to discover what actually happened to Lucrezia Medici and therefore vouchsafe her own safety. Her husband the Duke is at first kept in the dark about his wife’s sleuthing, and treats her rather cruelly for her disobedience when he discovers her secret investigation. As the story progresses, however, we begin to see a change in his demeanor and he becomes redeemable. Throughout the story, we are given insight into the character of the first duchess, Lucrezia, in the form of an inner monologue from the woman’s ghost.
This story is rich and full of life, true to the Renaissance Era. The mention of the English legend of Tristan and Isolde (Barbara receives beagle puppies from Queen Elizabeth and names them Tristram and Iseult), endeared me further to the story. Loupas put a lot of work into this novel; her knowledge of the Italian Renaissance Era is apparent. Her ability to use that knowledge to create such a wonderful historical mystery puts her on par with the likes of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory. I hope to read more novels by Elizabeth Loupas.