Reviewed by Colleen Turner

In The Second Duchess, Elizabeth Loupas expands on Robert Browning’s Victorian poem “My Last Duchess” to bring to life the very real and very enigmatic court of Ferrara under Alfonso II d’Este. Through the eyes of his second duchess, Barbara of Austria, we are thrust head first and unprotected into this 16th century pit of vipers, made to feel, smell, taste, see and hear the danger and intrigue at one of the key points of the Italian Renaissance.

Barbara of Austria doesn’t expect happily-ever-after from her marriage to Duke Alfonso d’Este. As a relatively unattractive, older princess of Austria, one that could have as easily been sent off to become a nun like some of her sisters, she expects the culture, splendor and exulted status that being the Duchess of Ferrara should bring. She is determined to ignore the whispers of sin and murder that surround her new husband and his first wife’s death. She soon finds that is not something she can easily do.

Inquisitive by nature she begins to ask questions and search out the truth of what happened to her predecessor Lucrezia d’Medici. When her own life becomes endangered she no longer knows who she can trust or what to believe. Behind every smile and every declaration of truth seems to lie forbidden secrets. Did her husband kill his first wife and, if so, is she now in danger of unleashing the monsters that lie within him? If he isn’t out to silence her, then who in fact is and what are they hiding? As she nears the precipice of discovery she finds it is too late to turn around and start fresh as the second duchess. Will she find the answers she so readily seeks, or will she follow in Lucrezia’s now cold footsteps?

I absolutely loved The Second Duchess! The story is told both from the viewpoint of Barbara of Austria as she navigates through the court of Ferrara and Lucrezia d’Medici, looking on from a state of death called immobila. As Barbara tries to uncover more and more of the truth, Lucrezia tells us what really happened to her, slowly and slyly, as she looks on with distaste at the proceedings.

The Second Duchess was a great historical whodunit that really kept me guessing to the end. This is the sort of story that you feel you are listening to or seeing first hand as it is happening instead of reading almost five hundred years in the future. Following close to historical fact while also cleanly incorporating fictional characters from Browning’s poem, The Second Duchess is a book that will please history, historical fiction and mystery lovers alike.

Rating: 5/5

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son and pet fish. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by NAL Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.