Saturday, June 5, 2010
Well, here we are 4 long years later and I finally got to read Gortner’s newly published second book about another intriguing woman from history – Catherine de Medici. Once again employing a first person narrative, Gortner takes us through Catherine’s life – from a bewildered and scared young girl in Florence to the hated and reviled Queen Mother of France and everything in between.
The events that make up Catherine’s life are proof of the adage that the “truth is stranger than fiction”. No one could make all of this up: the loveless marriage complicated by a meddling mistress; three sons who would sit on the throne of France only to die before their time; the religious stife that resulted in a horrific massacre of innocent people and allegations of black magic, poison and sorcery. Surprisingly, despite all of this great material to work with there are very few novels about Catherine – a trilogy written by Jean Plaidy and last year’s The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis (all of which I have read).
Much like he did with Juana of Castille, Gortner manages to humanize Catherine rather than portray her as a caricature of the woman history has made her out to be. Can she be ruthless? Sure. But she’s a mother with sons and a throne to protect and she is committed to doing everything in her power to save them and France from the religious conflict that is threatening to tear it all apart. But beyond that, we see a woman with a great capacity for love, compassion and understanding. A woman with an astute political mind and an ability to rule. A woman who both knows fear and how to instill it in others. A woman who makes mistakes but who picks herself up to live another day.
Catherine’s reputed fascination with the occult (which has formed the basis for her reputation over the last 400+ years) is presented with restraint and is not allowed to overwhelm the story. Rather than focusing on this aspect of Catherine’s life, Gortner instead concentrates on her relationships with others, especially her children, and her almost single minded focus to bring peace and stability to France. Catherine is haunted by visions of the future and I was amused by a scene where Catherine tries to conjure up a spell of sorts and as she awaits it’s result she gets – nothing. So much for the evil sorceress! Cosimo Ruggerio is a minor character, but his association with Catherine will have tragic consequences for her, her family and for France.
The only little quibble I have is with the Author’s Note – or more specifically what was missing from it. Some of the actions and motivations that led up to the major events are likely speculation and/or the creative mind of the author. Although I did not think anything was so far “out there” as to be unbelievable, I think some things should have be clarified as to the extent they were invented or embellished for purposes of the story.
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is a riveting story and I felt transported to Catherine’s world. Many times I felt I was right there with her - especially when my heart raced along with hers on September 23, 1572 as she made her way down darkened corridors to confront the horrors of a plan gone terribly wrong. I am looking forward to Gortner’s next book about Isabella of Castille. I just hope I don’t have to wait four years for it!
Rating: Excellent (5 Stars)
Prophetic words: "You will fulfill your destiny. It may not be the destiny you want, Caterina de Medici, but fulfill it you will." Cosimo’s father to Catherine at a young age after the first of her “visions”.
Words of warning: "Love is a treacherous emotion. You’ll fare better without it. We Medici always have.” Catherine’s relative, Pope Clement VII, as she prepares to leave for France.
Common ground: “To be a woman alone in this world requires every weapon you possess, every last bit of strength and endurance. You cut away pieces of yourself without realizing it, until you have everything and nothing at the same time.” Diane to Catherine after Henri’s death.
Does God keep count? “I don’t think God pays attention to how many people we kill to prove a point.” Catherine to Coligny as they discuss ways to avert all out war.
*In case the FTC asks: I received an ARC via Library Things Early Reviewer Program. But I want a nice hardback for my own, so I’ll be buying one! Hopefully there’s no problem with that.