THE SECOND DUCHESS, by Elizabeth Loupas, was published in March of 2011 and is 369 pages. I was sent a copy for review, and I’m so glad. Set in the Italian Renaissance court of Ferrara, THE SECOND DUCHESS is an historical mystery with a memorable cast of characters that I absolutely could not put it down.
It opens in December of 1565 on the wedding day of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and Barbara of Austria. Barbara is full of excitement about life in the beautiful Italian court full of painters, musicians, and religious men and women, and is more intrigued than threatened by rumors that her new husband murdered his first wife.
She tries to ignore the rumblings from those around her but eventually her inquisitive nature gets the best of her, and she becomes determined to solve the mystery of the untimely death of the first Duchess, Lucrezia de Medici. Barbara’s queries soon reveal that Lucrezia might not have been the charming, apple-cheeked girl her portraits reveal, and Barbara becomes privy to an intricate web of deceit spun from the nobility to the working class. Barbara also learns that her dark and mysterious husband is not one to be crossed or trifled with. Her persistence in determining how Lucrezia died nearly costs her her marriage, her own life, and the downfall of many important and influential courtiers.
In a plot full of breathtaking twists and revelations, THE SECOND DUCHESS is a fascinating tale of history, passion, and murder. Barbara is charming and engaging and her husband, the Duke, reminded me of a darker, more dangerous Mr. Darcy. Fans of Philippa Gregory and Daphne du Maurier alike will enjoy this novel. I give it my highest recommendation.