I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by NAL Trade on April 1st, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
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?
I don’t think there has been a book since Dance with Dragons that I have been as rabidly excited about as I was about discovering The Red Lily Crown. We are talking world-melting levels of excitement. Why?
I am a Renaissance historian who specializes in Medici Florence. I love the Medici, in particular Cosimo I, first Grand Duke of Tuscany. And as far as Medici books go, 99% of them are going to be written about Lorenzo the Magnificent, or Catherine de Medici, Queen of France. Both fabulous and interesting, don’t get me wrong, but no one, and I mean no one, is writing fiction about my beloved Cosimo I, or the Duchy period in Florence!
How badly did I want to read this book NOW? Badly enough that when I could not find ARCs on NetGalley, Edelweiss or anywhere else, I actually ended up contacting Elizabeth Loupas — who, might I add, was an absolute sweetheart and super lady. Seriously, what a lovely woman. She made sure I had a copy within 24 hours, and this was me:
So was the book worth all that self-imposed hype? YES. Admittedly, due to the time period this book has more to do with Cosimo’s son Francesco Medici but still, this is what I’ve been dying to read!
The Red Lily Crown’s protagonist, Chiara Nerini, is the daughter of the late Carlo Nerini, an anti-Medici bookseller and dabbling alchemist. After Carlo’s death, the Nerini family is struggling and hungry, and Chiara is desperate enough to support her sisters and grandmother that she approaches Francesco Medici with the hope that he will buy her father’s alchemical equipment. It is a known fact that the Medici prince is obsessed with alchemy, and when Chiara gains his attention, it becomes evident that he is interested in far more than the alchemist’s tools. Francesco demands Chiara enter his service to become his soror mystica, (female alchemist), to aid the alchemical work he has begun with an English metallurgist, Ruan, to create the famous Philosopher’s stone. As Chiara is forced to prove her virginity to occupy the title, she realizes she is now in Francesco’s power, unable to leave, or defy him.
As Fransesco Medici inherits the role of Grand Duke of Tuscany, Chiara is ingratiated into Medici service, first in the household of Isabella Medici, then in the service of the Grand Duchess Giovanna of Austria, and finally, to Bianca Capello, Francesco’s Mistress and later wife. Chiara becomes inevitably invested and enmeshed within Medici intrigue, exposed to deception, adultery, murder, and the ruthlessness of the Grand Duke, who will stop at nothing for what he wants. Chiara and Ruan, bound together in their research, grow to hate Fransesco for his ruthlessness, but cannot escape him.
The plot is so rich and so thick that to explore it any further would be to give away many spoilers, but suffice to say the material is expertly faithful to real world history, and the personal choices made by Elizabeth Loupas to answer long-standing mysteries are wonderful supplements to her intended direction. Loupas has brought to life both her fictional and literal characters, the atmosphere of 1570’s Florence, and the incredible world presence of the Medici. She has so diligently constructed the intensity of this legendary Renaissance family, paying respect to their history, their legacy, their perseverance, and the individuality of each Medici – so often they are carelessly lumped together, which can be so disappointing. Whats more, the complexity allotted to the characters give them concrete reality, and the subtlety that I crave in great writing. For example, even though Fransesco is portrayed as as the unquestionable villain, he is difficult to hate, for he is so essential to his characteristics! He is an avaricious sadist, but he is a true sadist, with motives beyond pain. He is a man who loves to roleplay and escape the grandeur of his life; he craves simplicity, yet paradoxically craves his power, and so exerts it in the avenue he feels is safe, which is with his mistress. Similarly, characters who are afforded much sympathy and forgiveness for their trespasses, such as Chiara’s father, still inspire such feelings of hate and dislike that I could barely stand to see his memory given patience. No one portrayed in this story is worthy of full trust, nor is anyone worthy of pure hatred, for these people are wholly, and truly human.
For these reasons and so much more, this is a book I not only appreciated, but also devoured and loved. I could rave forever, but I think I might as well leave this review summarized with a simple sentiment: If you love history, the Medici, or just a fantastic read, the Red Lily Crown comes absolutely, exuberantly, and vehemently recommended by this saucy historian.