Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot
ARC, e-book, 384 pages
Thomas Dunne Books
December 1, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received for review for HFVBT tour
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.
If you have read novels on the life of Catherine de Medici the events in Medicis Daughter will not be new to you, however the first person perspective of Marguerite, Catherine’s daughter, should be a refreshing take on it. The novel only covers an approximate 10 years of Marguerite’s life, from her relative obscurity away from court until just past her marriage to Henry of Navarre. I actually appreciated this fact because even though Marguerite had an interesting life even after this time period, this was a defining moment her life and formed who she would become. Through Marguerite’s eyes we see a coming of age story from a young, innocent girl into a woman of the Valois court who makes decisions for herself, goes toe-to-toe with her powerful mother, and ultimately who becomes a strong woman. You get a distinct sense of her growing awareness though out the novel; she starts out a very naïve girl who finds that first blush of love thrilling and willing to do anything for it and over time begins to see the multi-faceted nature of people that maybe does not impress her so much. Upon realizing that she has been virtually used and manipulated by basically everyone around her, she makes her first truly individual decision in sticking with the husband that she never wanted for reasons that she would never have been capable of realizing at the beginning of the novel.
When I first opened the pages of this novel, I thought “oh, first person…great”. I am not the biggest fan of first person narratives for the same reason that many do not like this perspective – the limiting nature and scope of the story. Sometimes authors have to use a variety of tricks to bring important information into the narrative. In Perinot’s Valois court, accomplishing this task felt natural enough. For Marguerite, she is kept away from much of the back room deals, but her friends have close access, and are able to bring information to her that she would not have been privy to. Early on, it is established that here are hidden passageways and listening holes throughout the court that Marguerite takes advantage of on occasion. Knowing that Catherine was always on top of the intrigue, I could whole-heartedly believe that these things existed in her courts, which allow Marguerite to discover some information herself without feeling out of place.
I have read a few novels that take on the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, but Perinot really gives it a perspective I had not viewed it from before. First, and again, you are seeing it through the eyes of a relative innocent in the court. There are a couple forewarnings for Marguerite, but she really has no idea what is coming, she just has a feeling that something is coming. You have the emotional revelation for her of being just a puppet on a string to her mother’s and brother’s political and religious game and the emotions of the heart too. This serves to color her reactions to the events in a way that would be markedly different than any story told from the perspective of her mother, Catherine, or her brother, King Charles, who were both deep into this political plan. And, the way the event is seen through Marguerite’s eyes lends a whole new intensely dramatic lens to the story. Very well done.
The Author’s Note at the end of the novel pointed out how thru Marguerite we see Catherine de Medici in a different light – that of the lens of the eternal mother-daughter struggle. For quite some time Marguerite is not privy to all of the behind the scenes machinations that Catherine is a part of but there is still that eternal teenage angst that keeps the tension between the two.
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Also by Sophie Perinot:
The Sister Queens
A Day of Fire
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