Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Pages: 468 (available in paperback)
Published: 2009 by St. Martin's Press
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.
So, I had read exactly one other book about Catherine de Medici, the Florence-born Medici girl who was basically auctioned off to marry Prince Henri of France and ended up mothering many children and becoming the infamous Madame Serpent due to her conniving and sometimes cutthroat moves to keep the throne. (Whew. That's Catherine in an unwieldly nutshell.) It was this book: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by CW Gortner. I keep getting the feeling while reading The Devil's Queen that it wasn't as historically accurate as this other book, which also cast Catherine in a sympathetic light, which bugged me a little.
Part of the premise of this historical fantasy novel is, you know, fantastical. Catherine supposedly did terrible magic in order to conceive all her children and keep them and her beloved husband Henri healthy and on the throne. This has some historical basis, since Catherine did have an astrologer for a close friend-- Cosimo Ruggieri-- and she was a firm believer and practitioner of astrology. It was an interesting take on history, anyway, though the story took dark turns because of the sacrifices Catherine was forced to make for France and for her family. Like I said, there are some glaring historical inaccuracy thingies which may get on the well-read history lover's nerves (I didn't mind, but then I'm not that well-read in history!). Like, most of Catherine's ten children aren't mentioned in the novel and the ones that are have been re-named (probably because half of them were named Henri, to avoid confusion).
The story is consistently interesting and flows at a great pace for a historical novel: not a thriller by any means, but much faster-paced than many I have read. My favorite minor character-- Catherine herself and Cosimo Ruggieri, her astrologer and a sorcerer who aids her throughout her long life, were my favorite major players-- has to be the young Mary, Queen of Scots. She's completely devious, to be such a young woman, and oddly enough a bigger rival to Catherine in this version than the infamous Diane de Poitiers (wasn't impressed with Diane in this novel-- liked her better in Confessions and even in AP Euro History). The conflict between the Catholic Catherine and her children and the Navarre faction of Huguenots was the more action-packed part part of the novel, though her relationships with her husband and sons and daughters were interesting, too.
The novel really makes a reader re-think whatever they've heard about the so-called Black Queen and Madame Serpent, Catherine de Medici. Catherine is a very sympathetic and realistic character-- even when she has to horrible things in order to save her family, I was able to understand why she did them. The saddest thing was how all her children kept dying as soon as they reached the throne-- it must have been a horrible thing for Catherine as a mother, for all her many children save one (Margot) to die before her.
The twist ending of the story-- both the surprise twist of the action, which involves a betrayal I never saw coming, and the romantic twist on the very last page of the novel-- completely threw me off. The Devil's Queen is a very entertaining yarn about Catherine de Medici, a mix of history, romance, royal court intrigue, witchcraft, and suspense. I 100% recommend it, if this sounds like the kind of mad-cap mix you would enjoy.