Sunday, May 9, 2010

the devil's queen: a novel of catherine de medici, queen of france, by jeanne kalogridis, adds the spice of magic to history

A new novel about the historic personage of Catherine de Medici shows another side to a woman who has been blamed for the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572, when thousands of Protestants were killed throughout France.
Jeanne Kalogridis' The Devil's Queen traces the life of a young girl, orphaned and taken in by relatives only because of her name and bloodlines. As the great granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Catherine was a valuable trading piece in the politics of the 14th century.
Generally unloved and manipulated by everyone from her distant cousin, Giulio di Giuliano de Medici, Pope Clement VII, to her closer relatives like her aunt Clarice Strozzi (nee de Medici), Catherine never really had a chance to be herself.
During a rebellion in 1527, when the family was pushed out of Florence, Catherine was imprisoned twice, treated relatively harshly and threatened with death repeatedly. She was still only a child. After the fall of the rebels, Catherine was taken to Rome where her marriage was arranged to Henry, Duke of Orleans, the second son of King Francis I of France, at the age of fourteen.
From the time she moved to France, Catherine suffered from being ignored, being hated and being scorned as her husband openly took lovers and eventually flouted his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who controlled Henry almost completely.
All of this, and much, much more, is generally known information about Catherine, but what Kalogridis has added is a touch of the supernatural and the macabre.
During Catherine's time there were a number of well-known and influential men who dabbled in the esoteric arts of magic, astrology and alchemy – despite them being banned by the Roman Catholic Church.
In The Devil's Queen, Catherine is befriended by Cosimo Ruggieri an astrologer and magician who eventually followed her to France; and meets Monsieur de Nostredame (Nostradamus) who remains, even now, a powerful figure.
Kalogridis gives Catherine an esoteric bent, a belief in the real power of magic and the ruthlessness to ensure her children are born, live and survive. There's lots of blood and violence involved, and an eventual denouement that may, or may not, be true.
The problem with historical novels of fiction is the existence of facts and general knowledge about these personages; particularly those of great fame.
However, Kalogridis manages to imbue Catherine with a real honesty, a realistic personality and adds enough fiction to ensure the reader is never bored.
If you don't like novels full of politics, long names and plots within plots, The Devil's Queen is not for you. This is a tightly woven story of a historical period seen through the eyes of a lonely, abused and desperate woman; one who had to grab her future with her own hands to ensure she stayed alive.
The book follows her story through the birth of her children and the death of her husband and her heirs, until the reign of Henri of Navarre – Henri IV or Henri the Great, the first Bourbon monarch.
Catherine lived to the age of 69 and was considered to have been the most intelligent person to ever sit the French throne. Still, The Devil's Queen does her justice in many ways.
Kalogridis' research is impeccable, as is her eye for detail and her ability to add personality and warmth to long dead people and times. Despite the historic detail, The Devil's Queen does not drag, it is fast paced and absorbing.
The Devil's Queen is a solid historical novel with just enough fiction to add spice and titillate the reader.

The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis is published by HarperCollins and is available from good book stores and online.


Post a Comment