Summary from Goodreads:
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.
The story is based off real people–Barbara of Austria and Alfonso II d’Este as well as the famous poem by Robert Browning called “My Last Duchess.”
The beginning started off a little slow, but picked up once Barbara, the main character, started having questions about her new husband and his involvement with the death of the previous duchess, Lucrezia Medici. The characters were very three-dimensional; I especially loved how Loupas gave Barbara a little nervous habit–it made her seem more real.
Alfonso’s character–well, let’s just say he was typical for someone with a lot of power and control. At first I couldn’t stand him at all, but as the book progressed, I really started to see that he wasn’t ALL bad–just egocentric and a typical European prince I grew to like him as Barbara did.
Even Lucrezia, the last duchess, plays an important role as a character–even though she’s dead. I won’t go into much more about her–you’ll have to read it to see–but she definitely was a princess used to doing what she wanted regardless of the consequences.
This book is ultimately a historical mystery as Barbara tries to piece together how exactly the last duchess died (since she was only 17 when she did). There were lots of twists and turns that I certainly didn’t see coming. Loupas definitely kept me wondering.
The only main issue I had was the amount of detail. Don’t get me wrong–I love the detail because it makes it more real–but sometimes with all of the Italian terms, I got a little lost. There wasn’t a glossary so some of the words that were used threw me out of the story temporarily as I tried to figure out what they meant in the context of the sentence. That was my only problem though and it was mostly in the beginning where things were just getting set up. By the end I didn’t notice it as much.
Also, there are a few steamy scenes, but nothing too over-the-top, just as a warning.