The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas is set in Medici, Italy, so there’s plenty of historically-grounded backstabbing, poisoning, and assassination in this character-driven story. Ah, my favorite kind of historical novel.
I love fiction set in this time period for all the over-the-top disregard for laws among the elite, and The Red Lily Crown has all the secret romance, murder, family backstabbing, and illegitimate children one could possibly dream up. There’s a pretty high body count (because you have to off a few rivals to make it to grand duke of Florence. Or mistress of the duke, for that matter. Or cardinal. Or a Cornish miner studying alchemy at the Florentine court. There is a lot of murder, is what I’m saying).
Our heroine is the poor daughter of an alchemist whose fortunes change when the de’ Medici grand duke takes an interest in alchemy and decides his work needs a female element. Once in the palace, she’s caught up in intrigues and affairs, as well as the duke’s quest for the philosopher’s stone.
So much of the story is historically accurate—like the unexplained deaths of the duke and his mistress-turned-secret-wife on the very same day—which makes the dramatic twists even more exciting. Of course, it’s a novel and not a history textbook, so there’s plenty of creative license, but it’s all quite believable. There’s an entire labyrinth of poison plants, for example, which is fictional but definitely just what a de Medici duke would have.
Without giving away too much, The Red Lily Crown has all my favorite de Medici elements. The only way it could have been more perfect is if the characters had spent a little more time commissioning art, but it was probably hard to find the time with all the assassinations going on.