Duchessina by Carolyn Meyer

(Cover picture courtesy of Open Library.)

Life as the wealthiest and most envied girl in all of Italy should involve a magnificent palace, beautiful dresses, heaps of jewels, and many devoted servants.  Instead, poor little Caterina de’Medici, or Duchessina as she’s called, finds herself imprisoned in a drafty convent with nuns who despise her and do everything they can to make her life a misery.  She is utterly alone, desperately hungry, and scared.

Imagine Duchessina’s relief to learn that she will be released from this intolerable existence and will move to Rome, where she will live in the grand household of the pope.  Finally the days ahead seem brighter—or do they?  Little does the young duchess know that her future includes a painful separation from the boy she loves, and a marriage contract that is anything but appealing.  But Duchessina is resourceful and determined.  She will find a way to command what she deserves.  She must—for the sake of her family and her own survival.

Catherine de’Medici has garnered quite a reputation and once again, Carolyn Meyer has stepped in to put things in perspective.  We never really are told what it is she does that has given her a reputation, but for people who know about her reign, this tale of her unhappy childhood really does explain a lot.  I think you’d turn out pretty ruthless too if you had the kind of childhood Catherine had.

In Duchessina, we learn about the truly horrible childhood she had and that most of her teen years were spent in nunneries hiding from her family’s enemies.  Catherine had done nothing to offend them other than being born into the wrong family.  Yet she suffers for it as the nuns in the first abbey do everything in their power to make her life absolutely miserable.  The only good thing that happens is when she is eventually moved to another nunnery where the nuns are much kinder to her and she learns the things a wealthy young lady of the times was expected to learn: manners, proper conduct and what to wear.

In the beginning, the plot is a bit slow, but it is very fast-paced in the end.  Catherine de’Medici’s early years are full of tragedy and judging by the way Duchessina ends, her adulthood is not much better.  However, readers will be captivated by the strong narrator and will enjoy Catherine’s transformation from innocent child to cynical teen/adult.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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