Tagged: catherine de medici

Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

(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.

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The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

From Jeanne Kalogridis, the bestselling author of I, Mona Lisa and The Borgia Bride, comes a new novel that tells the passionate story of a queen who loved not wisely . . . but all too well.

Confidante of Nostradamus, scheming mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots, and architect of the bloody St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Catherine de Medici is one of the most maligned monarchs in history. In her latest historical fiction, Jeanne Kalogridis tells Catherine’s story—that of a tender young girl, destined to be a pawn in Machiavellian games.

Born into one of Florence’s most powerful families, Catherine was soon left a fabulously rich heiress by the early deaths of her parents. Violent conflict rent the city state and she found herself imprisoned and threatened by her family’s enemies before finally being released and married off to the handsome Prince Henry of France.

Overshadowed by her husband’s mistress, the gorgeous, conniving Diane de Poitiers, and unable to bear children, Catherine resorted to the dark arts of sorcery to win Henry’s love and enhance her fertility—for which she would pay a price. Against the lavish and decadent backdrop of the French court, and Catherine’s blood-soaked visions of the future, Kalogridis reveals the great love and desire Catherine bore for her husband, Henry, and her stark determination to keep her sons on the throne.

First off, I have to say that although this is historical fiction because it’s based off of the life of Catherine de Medici, it also has elements of fantasy because Jeanne Kalogridis takes the worst rumours about the queen’s witchcraft and imagines they were real.  It’s not a bad approach and the broad strokes of Caterina’s life are of course accurate but just know that this is not strict historical fiction; there is quite a bit of fantasy.

Many of the characters are memorable but of course Caterina herself is the best.  Her family was out of power when she was an adolescent and before she got married so not only did she experience the glamorous side of life but the rougher side that comes with strife, conflict and civil war.  This early experience with a life-threatening situation leaves a chip on her shoulder that she will carry for the rest of her life.  She knows that it is the most important thing she can do as a queen to produce a son (preferably lots of sons) but when her husband seems disgusted by her and she does not get pregnant she turns to witchcraft and blood magic.  One particular scene is pretty horrific but it’s in keeping with her character: no matter the cost to herself she will have an heir and avert civil war.  She does some pretty horrible things and although she’s not always completely sympathetic, I do feel for Jeanne Kalogridis’ version of her.  Her husband is disgusted by her and goes to his mother figure/mistress Diane de Poitiers, she is not an attractive woman and is marginalized politically, etc.  Caterina had a hard childhood matched by a hard life; she’s far from perfect but you do have to feel for her.

While the plot isn’t exactly fast-paced it is interesting.  I’ve read only one other book about Caterina de Medici so it was nice to learn more about the civil strife that led to her imprisonment in two different nunneries as a preteen and how she was married off to King Henry (then prince).  Once she gets to France there’s a lot of interpersonal conflict between characters but it’s not just drama for the sake of drama.  Jeanne Kalogridis has a purpose to every scene and even though it may not seem like it at the time, every scene moves the plot forward to the horrifying conclusion.  So while The Devil’s Queen is no action/thriller novel, it is very interesting and even if you know about her historical reign as queen and regent, Jeanne Kalogridis may just surprise you with some of the things she speculates at.  Nothing is for certain at court, especially when it comes to the royal family.

I know a little about the period but as you’ve probably guessed I’m no expert.  However, the main events of the story are very much real and Jeanne Kalogridis inserts those little details into everyday life that make you really feel like you’re there.  Personally, I loved that the French all thought Caterina and her Italian entourage were positively barbaric for eating their food with the forks they brought with them.  It’s just those little details that both make you laugh and educate you about how certain cultural practices became the norm in pretty much all of the Western hemisphere.  There are so many more little details like that that you can tell Kalogridis really did her research (particularly about Medieval astrology).  She combines fantasy and history perfectly into this harrowing tale of the complicated life of a complicated woman.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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