Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas

From the Back Cover:

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?

My Thoughts:

Another winner from Elizabeth Loupas! The Red Lily Crown is an exciting and dangerous novel of Florence under Francesco de Medici's rule, and if you're not familiar with Francesco and his family, prepare to be shocked! Our story begins when Chiara Nerini, a young woman desperate to feed her starving family, attempts to sell her late father's alchemical equipment to Francesco de Medici, the regent and soon-to-be Grand Duke of Florence. Chiara ends up helping her family survive, but not in the way she imagined. She is given a position in Francesco's court as his soror mystica, a feminine counterpart to himself and his assistant, Englishman Ruan dell'Inghilterra, in his ultimate quest to create the mythical Philosopher's Stone.

Motivated by her own reasons for seeking to harness the power of the famed stone, she embarks on a path of alchemical education and enlightenment, pampered for the first time in her life and privy to some of the inner secrets of the court. But she quickly learns that Francesco's favor never comes without a price, and as his quest for power grows and his wrath turns on those she cares about, Chiara soon finds herself trapped in his court, fighting for her own life, attempting to stay one step ahead of a madman while vowing vengeance for those he betrayed. She is eventually aided in this effort by Ruan, who has his own reasons for hating Francesco, but in a court full of deception and betrayal, considering his dark background and even darker secrets, she'll have to decide if she can afford to trust him with her own secrets, with her heart . . . and with her very life.

I really liked this story. Chiara is the best kind of heroine: smart, bold, and ambitious yet also loving, loyal, and all-too innocent in the beginning. I also really liked the way Ms. Loupas handled the portrayal of Francesco de Medici. Yes, he's twisted, but he's also very human, yearning for the same things most of us yearn for: love, respect, knowledge. However, unlike most of us, when he doesn't get his way, people tend to die. And they do even when he does get his way, actually. I have to admit, I found it hard to dislike him, even as he did some pretty vile things. It may have had something to do with the fact that he doesn't actually get his own hands dirty, and so there was a sort of distance between him and his crimes. As the story progresses he grows more and more monstrous, but he's a refined monster, the most dangerous kind, the kind that always keeps you guessing, as Chiara soon finds out for herself.

I also found the alchemy and political turmoil of the time to be very interesting and great backdrops for the story. It also provides an interesting view into the art of poisoning, which the medieval Italians seem to have perfected. Much time is spent in the laboratory, but the trio of alchemists are surrounded by a good cast of supporting characters, from Francesco's poor wife Giovanna to his vindictive mistress Bianca to Chiara's feisty grandmother Nonna, they flesh out the canvas, presenting a very nuanced and evocative portrayal of the Florentine court and its subjects. I really only had one issue, and that was that I wasn't as impressed by the romance between Chiara and Ruan. It's not the focal point of the story until the end draws near, but I think it could have been a bit more developed. It was easy to see what Ruan saw in Chiara, but I found him a bit harder to like, and after so much indifference and single-mindedness on his part, his declarations were not as easy for me to buy as they were for Chiara. But I am a hopeless romantic, and I usually need to get caught up in a good love story for me to be wholly satisfied with a book. Other readers may have no complaints.

All in all, The Red Lily Crown is a well-written, suspenseful historical thriller featuring an engaging young heroine, providing a fascinating glimpse into an immoral and sociopathic family and the effects they had on those they ruled. It should please fans of historical fiction, particularly those interested in Italy's medieval ruling families.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

Check out my interview with Elizabeth Loupas for the Historical Novel Society!

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected.
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Wanna win your own copy of
The Red Lily Crown?

Simply leave a comment on this post with your email address, and you're entered!

This giveaway is open to US residents and closes at 11:59pm Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!


  1. I can't wait to read this book! westmetromommy(at)gmail(dot)com

  2. this sounds great I'd love to read it
    nicnjay11 at gmail com

  3. Wow! This sounds like a great read! Thanks for the post and giveaway!
    Campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  4. I would love to read this - my kind of book!!! Thanks!

  5. I've read other books by this author. I'm sure I will enjoy this novel. thanks for the giveaway.

  6. I forgot to include my email in the comment above. lcbrower40(at)gmail(dot)com

  7. Yet another great-looking historical, I don't know where you find them all. I've still got a visit to Italy on my bucket list, actually very near the top. Thanks for the chance to win The Red Lily Crown. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

  8. I am really looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the chance to win it..

  9. My sister loves Elizabeth Loupas! This would make a great Bday gift! Thanks for the chance!

    king_nickolay @ yahoo . com

  10. This sounds rich and intriguing; can't wait to read it, thanks.

  11. would love to read this book!!
    thank you for the giveaway!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  12. Loved The Flower Reader and have been really looking forward to this one too :)

    HPelkey1982 at yahoo (dot) com


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