(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.
Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot’s heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother’s schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot’s wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.
Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
One of the women you hear a lot about is Catherine de Médici. She’s the subject of numerous historical fiction novels and has a reputation among the general public for being a wicked, manipulative queen. While the consensus among historians is somewhat different, there is no doubt she was a ruthless, oddly pragmatic woman. But what was her daughter, Marguerite de Valois like? Sophie Perinot gives us a look into the ilfe of another incredible woman who has been largely ignored by history.
Our poor Margot starts out fairly innocent but is changed by court life when her mother finally summons her to live at court as her lady in waiting. In the beginning, she tries to be the perfect princess: she supports her brothers fully, doesn’t seek power for herself and lives chastely despite the fact that the court was largely not. Then, everything changes when she’s fifteen and falls in love for the first time with Henri, Duc de Guise. Before then, she was resigned to being a marriage pawn for her mother and brothers. After falling in love, Margot really comes into her own. She demands to be let in on the political discussions that her mother participates in but bars her from. She gains power through her broher Henri, Duc d’Anjou (known mostly as Anjou to avoid confusion). But of course nothing goes according to plan for poor Margot as the people around her have plans and schemes of their own.
While the beginning of this novel is somewhat confusing because of all the names thrown at the reader, you can actually get your footing pretty quickly. There are three characters with the first name of Henri in this novel but they’re mostly known by their titles and their personalities are so unique anyway that you won’t confuse the three of them. One of the hallmarks of Médicis Daughter is Sophie Perinot’s descriptive writing style that brings the court and the characters to life. She can be beautifully descriptive but also knows when to pare down her writing for the sake of pacing. And she captures both the beauty in the novel (the young love, the nicer family moments) and the ugliness as well (the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the awful treatment of her by her own family).
Sophie Perinot, as she says in her historical note, stays quite close to historical fact but cut out some characters because they weren’t central to the narrative and changed a few minor events. For example, Margot was never left alone with the Queen of Navarre on her deathbed. It makes for a better and less confusing story so I can’t really blame her for that. After all, three Henris is more than enough to try to keep straight, no matter how familiar you are with the period. As someone who is relatively new to the period, I was certainly grateful for a few characters being cut as there is a relatively large cast of secondary characters.
All in all, I was very impressed with Médicis Daughter. It does everything historical fiction should do: shines light on the lives of real historical figures/time periods, is well written and is reasonably paced. Sophie Perinot doesn’t write a fast-paced novel by any stretch of the imagination as most of it is character-driven but you can slowly feel the tension building toward the end as the massacre comes closer and closer. You aren’t entirely sure what is going to happen and how Margot is going to react, which makes it all the better. If you’re looking for an intersting novel on a largely ignored historical figure, Médicis Daughter daughter is a really great book to pick up.
I give this book 5/5 stars.