Let me just say, Historical Fiction is perhaps my favorite genre of all, especially historical fiction about Royalty. I have been in love with it ever since I read Jean Plaidy back in the 70s (when not many people were writing HF about Royalty at all). As a result, I was really excited to get my hands on a copy of this book. I love finding new authors in this genre and have found several lately that are really good. Elizabeth Loupas certainly falls into that category.
In The Second Duchess she tells the story of Barbara of Austria, the second wife of Alfonso d'Este, the 5th Duke of Ferrara. Barbara knows that she is not pretty, like his first wife, Lucrezia de Medici. She also knows that as a princess of Austria, she has no real choices in her marriage or her life, so she has decided to make the best of her marriage, whatever happens. Once she arrives in Ferrara, she quickly becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the death of the Duke's first wife, who rumors say was murdered by the Duke.
There are several things that I liked about this book. For one, the book is told in the first person, alternating between the voice of Barbara and the voice of the dead Lucrezia. Although this can be problematic in some stories, Loupas does a great job with it. In this case, the use of the two voices only enhances the mystery and keeps you turning pages. I also liked the fact that the story presented in the book is not one of the main stream stories that have been done many times. Loupas' choice to pick one of the Italian Royal families that have had less exposure, and on top of that, a story that has not been overdone, is a really smart move in my opinion. Finally, Loupas does a wonderful job in creating characters that a reader can identify with, while still keeping them true to 16th century Italy.
To my friends who love historical fiction, this books is a must read. I highly recommend it and am eagerly awaiting what Ms. Loupas comes up with next