The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of Medici Florence. Elizabeth Loupas. Penguin Group (USA). April 2014. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780451418876.
The Grand Medici Duke has died and Francesco has inherited rule of Florence. His Court is full of decadence, rumors, betrayals, torture and executions. His passion is not his rule but the world of alchemy in which he obsessively works toward creating the union of elements that will give him unlimited power. While he has helpers, they are only tools that are necessary parts of the formulas that he is testing to achieve his vision. He will then probably discard them as he has so many others. Even his lover is a tool to feed his vision of abject power and the crueler the foreplay, the more satisfied is his insatiable lust for dominion. He is a deplorable specimen of manhood but no one would dare say that ever-present thought to his face!
Chiara is the young daughter of a couple who are vowed enemies of the Medici family. An accident has taken the life of Chiara’s father and left her with a huge scar, frequent bouts of the “falling sickness,” and voices she hears which she attributes to the Devil. Those left in her family are starving to death and in desperation she takes one of her father’s alchemical tools and grabs the attention of Francesco Medici, a fate that is hopeful and hopeless in many dimensions. For now, however, her family no longer need fear decimating poverty as she passes Francesco’s test to become the “virgin” acolyte in his alchemical quest.
Ruanno is Francesco’s other assistant, a man who has changed names and disguises multiple times. While he speaks fluent Italian, he is from Cornwall, England. There he learned all the secrets of metallurgy and doesn’t believe in alchemy at all but does respect the power and science of uniting metals. He will use it in his secret plot to avenge someone in his past. It is his kindness that saves Chiara multiple times. As Francesco gets closer and closer to his goal, when he’s not involved in torturing and assassinating his foes and family, Ruanno and Chiara know they must make other plans for their future.
The Red Lily Crown… has a taut and ever-changing plot that never fails to keep the reader totally riveted. It makes up for some rather stereotypical characters but that doesn’t lessen the power of this story at all. The scenes of cruelty are potent and not for those with queasy stomachs but they do capture the essence of near-madness in the Medici family. Drama should have been the Medici’s middle name and wealth is nothing but a tool to get more money, more sex, more danger, more, more, more! For those who love a great adventure story or a truly evil villain and memorable foils to that demonic side, this is a novel you’ll love and definitely be unable to forget! Great historical fiction!