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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `The court of Ferrara is like a love-apple, beautiful and rosy-red and alluring to the senses, but poisonous, so poisonous-`,
This review is from: Second Duchess, The (Paperback)The Second Duchess is a historical fiction mystery set in the Italian Renaissance. The novel deals with Barbara of Austria, an imperial princess, who has entered into a marriage with Alfonso d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara who is the ominous Duke from Robert Browning's poem My Last Duchess. The marriage is overshadowed by the suspicious death of Alfonso's young first wife Lucrezia de' Medici, along with the rumours that Barbara's new husband Alfonso had a hand in her death. When events in Ferrara beginning to take on a dangerous edge for the second duchess, she takes matters into her own hands and starts to secretly investigate the death of Lucrezia. However, there is seemingly no shortage of candidates who had it in for the flighty pretty first Duchess and would like her secrets to stay hidden. The renaissance world is brought vividly to life in this novel; I was swept away by the glittering court of Ferrara! This review contains spoilers.
There was a strong and most importantly believable mystery element in the story. Barbara falls back on investigating Lucrezia's death to ensure her place and dignity as Duchess will be respected by her husband, rather then just deciding to investigate for the sake of it. The plot builds slowly and feels real natural rather then forced which happens sometimes in a historical mystery. Another reason why it worked well was that the author didn't go down the predictable route for who did it, rather choosing to weave a complex and intriguing mystery surrounding the life and death of first Duchess of Ferrara. I loved the complex relationship between Alfonso and Barbara as it struck a realistic cord for me and they were just so engrossing to read as a couple. The novel felt real to the sixteenth century and the characters were heavily grounded in their time, without modern preconceptions. I felt like they had real connections to the past with the d'Este family name that Alfonso took so much pride in alongside his notorious Borgia grandmother and Juana la Loca, Barbara's grandmother. The book felt well researched and described so that I could really picture the world that they lived in.
I really liked the character of Barbara because she was nothing like the normal beautiful heroine, she was stiff, ugly, and reserved but she really had guts and passion where it mattered. Impenetrable Alfonso was also a character I steadily warmed to as events progressed throughout the book, which is a testament to the skill of the author, it takes a lot of talent to make me root for the man who beats the heroine like a child to correct her. The whole d'Este clan, including Luigi, Creiza, and Nora were all interesting larger then life characters who lit up the pages of the novel. I also like we-three Katherine, Sybille and Christine the Austrian ladies who are the loyal friends of Barbara, they made me happy feel happy for her she wasn't totally alone in the court of Ferrara. The two beagles were another high point of the book!
I was unsure about the parts with Lucrezia's spirit when I first started the book, as having the dead speak in a novel for me doesn't always work. However I enjoyed it as her distinct voice dropped hints here and there that the reader could know but Barbara couldn't, it was great fun to try and work out who did what and what was going to happen from her hints. At times her voice frustrated me but I also felt very sorry for her at parts. It worked overall for me in the novel because she didn't have the power to influence events, she could only watch.
I enjoyed this book - I would love to read more from the Italian Renaissance from this author! Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and of mysteries!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, a top drawer historical mystery,
This review is from: Second Duchess, The (Paperback)Barbara of Austria is the second duchess of Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara - his first duchess, Lucrezia de' Medici having died mysteriously several years before. Barbara may not be the great beauty that wife #1 was, but she's got brains and breeding and goes into the marriage with her eyes wide open and accepts her lot in life. Well sort of, because she's soon hearing unsettling rumors that Lucrezia may have met an untimely end and Barbara decides to investigate for herself, which is no easy task when one's every move is observed and reported back to one's husband. No surprise, but Barbara finds she's opened a bigger can of worms then she really wanted and she finds herself having a few too many close accidents. Could it be Alfonso himself who did in Lucrezia and now has the same plans for her? One of his jealous sisters? Or his brother the Cardinal? Or...
...I'm thinking you really don't want me to tell you, do you? It's a lot more fun to read it for yourself and see if you can guess. I enjoyed this book a lot, and found it a great change of pace and I'm hoping there will be more from Ms. Loupas in the near future. There are two narrators in this piece, one being Barbara and so as not to spoil the fun I won't name the other but trust me, you'll love the twist and the voice of both ladies, and that says a lot coming from one who doesn't normally care for first person narratives. Barbara's voice was very much what I would expect from a woman of her class and breeding, no foot stamping demanding *twu wuv* forever. No hysterical pouts when she doesn't get her way with her husband. How refreshing.
Ms. Loupas does a great job with her setting, giving the reader a good sense of time and place with realistic characters acting appropriately to their positions. All in all a very engaging read, a great mystery that keeps you guessing and turning the pages until the very end. Recommended.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Quality Historical Novel....,
This review is from: Second Duchess, The (Paperback)This wonderful novel opens with the wedding of Barbara of Austria to Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Barbara will be the Duke's second wife and Duchess with rumours circulating freely that he had murdered his first wife, the young and beautiful Lucrezia de Medici.
Barbara is completely different from his first wife. Many think her to be ugly yet she is a strong woman and has great warmth and consideration for those around her. She knew about the rumours before she agreed to marry the Duke, but now that she is married and living in his country the rumours which she thought she could discount, quickly become too large to ignore. It soon becomes apparent that her own life is in danger, from an unknown source. And so she begins her own investigation.
I had never heard of the author Elizabeth Loupas before and chanced upon this gem of a novel whilst browsing Amazon. She quickly and effortlessly takes you into Barbara and Alfonso's world. The characters and story are based on fact wherever possible, and there were indeed rumours surrounding the death of Lucrezia de Medici. Elizabeth has cleverly taken what little is known and woven a mesmerizing tale around the true mystery, and all the movers and shakers of sixteenth century Italy. The smells, textures and rich wealth of the Ferrara Court is beautifully drawn, and you feel as if you are walking beside Barbara, watching the mystery unfold.
The story is told in the first person from two people's points of view, and while this is not always a popular choice for an author, I like it and felt it really suited this novel.
If you love historical fiction, something a little different which will keep you guessing to the end then click 'Add to Basket'.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow,
This review is from: The Second Duchess (Kindle Edition)I have read The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas which I enjoyed BUT this is brilliant from the first page to the last. Well researched, and excellently written. I was,reluctant to put the book down and only did when it was necessary. Heartily recommended.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Second Duchess,
This review is from: The Second Duchess (Kindle Edition)The Flower Reader was a novel of enjoyable conceit from Elizabeth Loupas, but I found The Second Duchess to be a real delight.
I instantly liked Barbara, the novel's protagonist, and, as many other reviewers have pointed out, she's a strong female character of just the sort I love. Despite being repeatedly hammered over the head with the fact that she isn't as beautiful as her new husband's late wife, Barbara doesn't let this bother her too much, discovering her own form of attractiveness over the course of the novel, and more importantly demonstrating considerable maturity and intelligence.
I also have to applaud the fact that Loupas resists making Alfonso either villainously evil or clean-cut good guy. He's a mystery in and of himself, aside from the mystery of who was responsible for Lucrezia de' Medici's death. He comes off as a dark enigma, but as Barbara learns more about her new husband he seemed to me to be very much a product of his times, and that's another thing I love about this book - Loupas keeps the story and characters firmly grounded in their historical context. Some historical fiction I read feels jarringly anachronistic due to characters who speak, act, and think as though they're living in the present day, but The Second Duchess seems to capture the spirit of Renaissance Italy within its pages.
The dual narration twist is revealed very early on, and could easily have come off as hokey and silly, but it isn't. In addition, it doesn't spoil the mystery at all. Sometimes in historical mysteries I'm able to call it halfway through or even within the first few pages, but here I was kept guessing right up until the reveal. And in a novel whose plot rests strongly on the mystery, rather than any other aspect of the story, that's a great attribute.
I very thoroughly enjoyed The Second Duchess and I am definitely looking forwards to more books from Elizabeth Loupas.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Second Duchess,
This review is from: Second Duchess, The (Paperback)I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book,and at times found it very hard to put down. At times you seemed to be living with them. I'm now waiting for the next book in the series.Anyone who likes historical novels will delight in this.
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Second Duchess, The by Elizabeth Loupas (Paperback - 24 Mar 2011)
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