The Red Lily Crown
by Elizabeth Loupas
Page Count: 418
Release Date: April 1, 2014
How got: personal buy from Amazon
First attention getter: the pretty cover (yes, I'm a cover whore! :D)
Elizabeth Loupas returns with her most ambitious historical novel yet, a story of intrigue, passion, and murder in the Medici Court...
April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.
Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.
Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets
-even to love her
-or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?
Star Rating - 4
A gripping tale of Renaissance Italian politics, the author shows us a tale of shifting loyalties, murderous family dynamics, and two souls just trying to survive it all. I found myself drawn in quickly and thoroughly, not being released until the very end. While there were fantastical elements that seemed out of place, they didn’t drag the book down too much.
Ruan and Chiara are fantastic leads. Two individuals from identically poor and harsh backgrounds, they made a life for themselves through hard work, intelligence, and cunning. With similar motivations and goals, their journeys dovetail into a powerful duo. They play off each other well, making the reader care for them as individuals and as a pair.
I also enjoyed the attention paid to the other characters fleshing out this story. The Medicis in all their autocratic glory are present, front and center. The author paid attention to all the major and minor players of this family: emotional Isabella, despotic Francesco, psychopathic Pietro, scheming Bianca, and clever Ferdinand. The way they plot and move their metaphorical pieces across the board of life keeps the reader enthralled.
The attention to detail is phenomenal in this work. From the little to the big, the setting and historical details breathe with life. The intricacies of court life, beautiful Renaissance clothing details, the polar opposites of rich/poor living, and the different power plays keep the reader reading from page to page rapidly. I also loved all the alchemy details: learning how the emphasis was on more than just finding the Philosopher’s Stone and making gold (though those seemed to be the main reason), how these practices impacted our character’s lives, and how ultimately alchemy was the key to the whole story.
The one issue I have with this book is the few instances of the fantastical the author weaves into it. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem for me; after all, I was a huge reader of fantasy in high school and love it with my historical fiction nowadays. Yet, it felt with all the emphasis on the historical drama of the Medici family politics and its impact on those in their circle that these instances were out of place with the rest of the story.
Despite that one detail, I’d still consider this book a strong look at Renaissance Italy, its politics, and the daily lives of those forced to live/work under the Medici yoke. Loupas proves she knows how to write a gripping, intense tale with strong characters that make you live their lives with them. Highly recommended for lovers of the Renaissance subgenre!