Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

book cover

The Second Duchess
by Elizabeth Loupas

ISBN-13: 9780451232151
Trade Paperback: 390 pages
Publisher: New American Library
Released: March 1, 2011

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
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.

My Review:
The Second Duchess is a historical novel set in December of 1565 in Ferrara, Italy. The story revolved around an intriguing "true life" mystery about how the first duchess died, and the author wrote about one possibility. The writing was rich with historical details, from the politics to details about Barbara's wedding dress, wedding supper, and even the steps of the dances. While not uninteresting, this level of detail in the first half of the book slowed the pacing enough that the story had a slow start.

The characters were interesting and the mystery intriguing, however I didn't really understand (until later) why Barbara--when frightened by her husband--decided to do the one thing that was sure to anger him further. About halfway through, though, the details thinned some, the pacing picked up, and I started to better understand and even like the main characters.

There were several attempts on Barbara's life due to her stirring up the past and some relationship troubles for her with her husband and some of the others at court. I liked that Barbara came to realize that the consequences of her actions affected others as well as herself, and I really enjoyed the second half of the book. There was a spattering of Italian words strewn throughout the text, but the meaning of the Italian word was either clear from the context or it didn't matter to the story.

There was no bad language in English, but it's implied that there was some crude language in Italian. (I don't know for certain since I don't know Italian.) Sex in general--either the attempt to get an heir or signs of others' affairs--was discussed a lot in the book. There were some vague descriptions of foreplay, but there were no graphic sex scenes. Overall, I'd recommend this intriguing novel to those interested in this time period.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
5 December 1565

"He murdered his first duchess with his own hands, they say," the Ferrarese hairdressing-woman whispered as she braided a string of pearls into my hair. "She was so young, so beautiful."

And I, Barbara of Austria, neither young nor beautiful, would be the duke's second duchess before the pale December sun set. What did the woman expect me to do, shriek and fall down in a faint? Jump up and swear I would not marry the Duke of Ferrara after all, but return straightaway to Innsbruck with my household and dowry and bride-goods down to the last box of silver pins? For all practical purposes I was married already, the contracts signed, the marriage-by-proxy performed. And truth be told, half-a-hundred people had already told me Alfonso d'Este had murdered his first wife.

Read the rest of chapter one.

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