Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Medicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois by Sophie Perinot

Medicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois
by Sophie Perinot
Release Date: December 1st 2015
2015 Thomas Dunne Books
Ebook Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250072092
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from HFVBT

4 / 5 Stars

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 M├ędicis, 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.

My Thoughts
Medicis Daughter is quite an enjoyable novel as it features the daughter of Catherine de Medici, Marguerite de Valois, a historical figure who has not typically been in the limelight.  While I have read countless fiction novels and non-fiction novels about Catherine de Medici, her daughter has usually been just a secondary figure to the religious events of the time and to the life of the Queen and court.  It was quite refreshing to view court life from the perspective of Catherine's daughter and to see things as a daughter of France might have seen them, one whose worth to her mother and brothers may have been the political advantage she brought to the throne through marriage.

I really like how Marguerite was portrayed in this novel as historical references to her are not always king, often believing in the rhetoric of the political times, especially a time period that didn't really value strong, dominant women unless they were kings and queens, and sometimes not even then.  Like the author, I have often wondered what France would have been like if Marguerite had been able to inherit the throne instead of Henri de Navarre, but rules in France did not permit females to inherit. In the novel, Marguerite developed from a naive, carefree young girl to one that was twisted by her family's greed, ambition, and inter-fighting, often having to take sides or act as peacemaker.  Growing up with the belief that her mother didn't care for her like she did her sons, Marguerite turned to Henri, her brother, and developed a very close relationship with him, one that eventually became warped by his own ambition and jealousy.  Even an element of incest was indicated between the two, although I really liked how the author portrayed the relationship rather than the history books; it seems much more plausible, considering the strict Catholic rules under which they grew up.  Having spent so much time in the corrupt French court, there are certainly aspect to Marguerite's personality that are not likeable; she gave no thought to giving her friend to another man because she didn't want him herself, and the flirting and other goings-on definitely gave the court its licentious reputation around the world, of which she was a part.  I don't think you can survive a court such as this, being the political figure she was, without learning a thing or two, especially things that are not especially moralistic or nice.  This is what made her so interesting though.  At times you wanted to hug her because of her mother's rejection, and then you just want to smack her because she could be downright cruel.

The one person I did like, and have always liked, is Henri de Navarre.  He is quite refreshing in a novel full of people whose values and morals were quite unrestricted.  But then, life in a French court was definitely very different than anything we would be familiar with today.  Watching Henri de Navarre struggle with the consequences of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre was gut-wrenching and I have to credit the author with the way she handled this aspect of history; seen through Marguerite's eyes made it that much more horrible, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I'd ever seen it explained in such a personal way.  I couldn't flip through the pages fast enough and felt the horror of it all as well as Marguerite's pain when she realized who could have been behind it all.  Characters I had grown to like throughout the novel were seen in quite a different light after these events and this is definitely due to the author's skilled writing.  

Medicis Daughter was a rather gripping and emotional fictional story about the life of Marguerite de Valois and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Marguerite developed from a rather naive girl of twelve when she joined the French court to a woman who could manipulate and connive with the best of them, but is a worthy heroine in her own right.  Despite the fact she is one of the most exalted woman in the land, she was still subject to the whims of her royal family, and bound by the edicts of her birth; furthermore, she came into her own during a time of great religious disunity in her country, taking a stand against her family that would have long-standing consequences for her and make her one of the most disliked people in France in the coming years.  I was glad the author focused on her strengths and how she stood up to her family in the end rather than on her love-life.  I am really hoping the author continues Marguerite's story as there is so much more to tell about this remarkable woman.