That’s my last duchess painted on the wall… Seduced by the hot sun and blinding passions of Renaissance Italy, sixteen-year-old Lucrezia de’ Medici sees a gilded life stretching ahead. Her wealthy new husband handpicked her to be his bride, and his great castle in Ferrara will be her playground. But Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara quickly proves to be just as dangerous and mysterious as he is dark and handsome, and the stone walls of the castle seem to trap Lucrezia like a prison.
Only the duke’s lover Francesca seems able to tame his increasing fury, as his desperate need to produce an heir drives him deep into precarious obsession. With her head full of heartbroken dreams, Lucrezia flees from him down a dangerous path that may cost her everything.
Step into the elegant world of the Robert Browning poem “My Last Duchess,” as imagined by Gabrielle Kimm, where she brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara. It is a chilling story of forbidden love and dark decadence that will haunt you.
Romantic Biographical Fiction
Heatl level: 2
Reviewer rating: 4 stars
REVIEW BY JILL:
In July 1559, Tuscany sixteen year-old Lucrezia de’ Medici is affianced to Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. It is on the surface at least, a good match, the young, beautiful and wealthy Lucrezia and the handsome, intelligent and titled Alfonso. Three months later they are married. But it is on their wedding night that any hope of a fulfilled and happy marriage begins to unravel.
The marriage is left unconsummated, with Lucrezia feeling abandoned, unfulfilled and bewildered. Alfonso is mortified, ashamed and questioning his inability to perform with Lucrezia, as his lusty sexual appetite has never failed before. This failure on the wedding night then sets the tone for the rest of their marriage.
As Lucrezia becomes disenchanted with her husband and marriage she takes an interest in the fresco that Fra Pandolf, a celebrated artist and his apprentice Jacomo are preparing to piant in the Castello. She is attracted to the tall, dark-haired and talented Jacomo, finding in him the fulfillment and love that she she craves and hoped for with Alfonso.
With Alfonso still impotent with Lucrezia, he becomes increasingly worried, as without an heir, the Pope intends to reclaim the rights to the Duchy of Ferrara. Alfonso spirals downward into despair and madness, blaming the innocent Lucrezia for his problems and finally decides upon a drastic solution.
Although Alfonso and Lucrezia were real, it is unknown exactly what happened to Lucrezia after three years of marriage. There is speculation she died of natural causes, that she was murdered by Alfonso or that she was committed into a convent. Gabrielle Kimm has woven her very own story about the fate of Lucrezia based on the poem by Robert Browning. This is Gabrielle Kimm’s debut novel. She has written a beautiful story, rich in historical detail and researched thoroughly. Her descriptions of the manufacture of lime (used for the frescoes), the preparation and painting of frescoes, the sport of falconry are impressive and add to the 16th century atmosphere of this historical fiction.
This novel moves briskly with its captivating love story and wonderful history. Though initially (throughout Part I) the narrative did seem slow with constant references to sex. Characters seemed to be thinking, talking or having sex. Or thinking about having sex. Or talking about sex while having sex. However, these constant references are understandable, as we soon discover the whole crux of the novel stems from the sexual dysfunction of the central male character, Alfonso. Highly recommended as a romantic historical fiction and I look forward to Gabrielle Kimm’s next work based on Francesca, a secondary character in His Last Duchess and mistress to Alfonso.
**This title is currently available in digital format for $2.99**
Note: For another wonderful account of Lucrezia de’Medici’s mysterious death, try ‘The Second Duchess’ by Elizabeth Loupas, which is coincidentally a debut historical fiction, also based on the poem by Robert Browning.