Friday, September 16, 2011

The Second Duchess

As you can see, I am writing another post because I just devoured this book in a little more than a day. I discovered this book while perusing the aisles at the library, and it popped out to me. Elizabeth Loupas wrote The Second Duchess, and right away I could tell it would be fascinating. In Europe the Duke of Ferrara is ready to take a new bride, so Alfonso d'Este is wed to Barbara of Austria. She is his second wife, and as soon as she lands in Ferrara she hears the whispers of how his first wife died. She is very nervous to be getting married at an older age, 26, and also to be going someplace new. It seems everyone around her is whispering juicy tidbits of gossip in her ears, and it makes her instantly curious to find out more. When she gets to know her new husband, she discovers him to be quite stern, serious and strict. When he sees his sisters whispering to her, he demands to know what they are speaking about.

Even though newly married, Alfonso instantly keeps his grip on his new wife. He has her painted with her hair long and flowing, which only unwed women do, and she discovers while being painted that there is a portrait hidden of the first duchess, Lucrezia. The duke her husband had already warned her not to listen to idle gossip or do anything untoward, but her curiosity gets the better of her and she finds the portrait and looks at it. Alfonso finds her, is very upset and beats her. The duchess is very upset at such treatment, especially after only being married a short amount of time. While recovering and staying away from him, she comes into contact with more courtiers that whisper things to her. The first duchess, Lucrezia, had died while imprisoned at Corpus Domini. Barbara, the duchess, takes just a few of her ladies to pay a visit under the pretense of prayer. While there, she meets the duke's aunt who is the abbess there. She pretends to be sick so she can question the infirmarian, the nun Corsica. She gives her a ruby ring in exchange for information.

Soon the Duke finds out about her questionings and starts to get upset again. While on a hunt, the duchess falls off her horse because her bridle had been cut clean through. Someone had tried to kill her. The duke puts her under house arrest while he tries to find out who would do this. He demands she tell him the truth of her doings before he'll let her go. He had also imprisoned her three Austrian ladies, so she was surrounded by women she did not know or trust. She opens up to him and tells him of her investigations. Instead of divorcing her or sending her away like she thought, he agrees to help her in the investigations, claiming his innocence. As they question more people, especially those at Corpus Domini, they find more clues. His first duchess had been a young girl of 14, lowly born and with no real maturity about her. They were not happy together, and did not spend much time together. Soon word spread of her many affairs, and so the duke imprisoned her in the abbey until further notice.

Soon he found out she was pregnant, and so he intended to keep her there to deliver her child in secret, and then to be sent away. While there, she passed away one night with no signs of having been unhealthy. The duke believed she had committed suicide, but the people thought he had killed her. In order to save face, he had spread the rumors that she had died of ill humors so that she could receive the last rites and be buried properly. Suicide would not have allowed such a burial, and would also have marred the duke's reputation. As Barbara works with her husband the duke to discover the truth, she is at war with herself as to whether she truly believes him innocent of the whole matter. He is prickly most the time and hard to get along with. In private moments, he is more tender but still fierce.

The ending comes quickly, full of excitement, intrigue and danger. I was not expecting the killer to be who it was, so it was exciting. I liked Barbara the duchess, because of her strength and wisdom in standing up to her husband, and striving to find out the truth. Surely their marriage could not have been healthy until the past was overcome. They come to get along better and ultimately have a happy marriage. Barbara and the duke are real historical characters; she comes from the Medici line, and he from the Borgias. She was rumored not to be pretty, but she did have long flowing red hair. The other very interesting part of the book, was that the author inserted some dialogue or thoughts rather, from the deceased first duchess Lucrezia. She is like a ghost in between life and death, sort of like purgatory. She offers her views on each chapter, and gives you tidbits here and there that help fill in the story. It always leaves you wanting more, as a good mystery should.

The book had many interesting and complex characters, and I found it very enjoyable. There were some sexual scenes, but easy enough to see coming and skip. I grew to like the duchess Barbara, but I never did like the duke Alfonso; he was too rough for me. The author took a poem from the 1800's by a Robert Browning titled My Last Duchess. The rumors of his first duchess were true, but in fact they think she died of tuberculosis. He did marry Barbara next and they lived happily together, surprisingly for a forced match. It is interesting how from the poem the author was able to weave a story together. I recommend the book because it is very interesting, a historical mystery that flows smoothly. For ghost lovers out there, it kind of left you with a creepy feeling when the first duchess spoke. A very creative and great way to keep the book flowing.

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