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Author Jeanne Kalogridis puts her own spin on the life of the infamous Catherine de Medici in The Devil’s Queen. Left orphaned and extremely wealthy, Catherine’s early life was marred by revolts among the Florentines against the de Medicis. Once the revolts are over her hopes to rule Florence are forever dashed when her uncle the Pope marries her off to Henri, the second son of the French King.  Disenchanted with Catherine, Henri soon turns to the older Diane de Poitiers for comfort and the childless Catherine becomes increasingly desperate to conceive a child before she is cast aside – and that includes resorting to charting the stars and casting spells. Henri’s older brother dies leaving him heir to the crown and Catherine destined to be Queen, although de Poitiers is the one who will remain the power behind the throne. Despite success at finally conceiving (thanks to the black-arts), the predictions of Nostradamus and Ruggieri of the fate that awaits Henri and her children continue to haunt her dreams and she will take any steps to protect them no matter what cost, and the story finally culminates with her daughter Margot’s marriage to Henry of Navarre and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

One morning at the gates of the Louvre, 19th century painting by Édouard Debat-Ponsan. Catherine de' Medici is in black. The scene from Dubois (above) re-imagined.

Alrighty, that storyline should have enough meat on it’s bones to keep a reader riveted don’t you think? Not, but then it’s probably just me again –  it usually is. My problems start with the use of the first person narrative, effectively hemming the author into a very limited point of view. To witness certain private events the author had to invent situations wherein Catherine could observe them and worse yet – when Catherine is not involved in the action she is recounting history to the reader – so that we’re being told and not shown and I found myself nodding off on a few occasions. A genealogy chart and/or cast of characters is sadly missing, how many average readers are truly familiar with the period and it’s players? Something to refer back to would have been very helpful and I thought it a bit presumptuous not to include it. As for the sex, it’s not over the top, but at times I felt it a bit too gratuitous – and there were way too many instances of it being done from the back side. Did we really need to hear that? 

Also and anyone correct me if I’m wrong but according to other books I’ve read and Wik, there were four sons who ruled – where in the hell was Henri the third son? Did I read a different book again? For the most part Kalogridis appears to stick to known history, although there are two plot twists (which I will not divulge) that are rather far fetched IMHO, and unfortunately the author does not address them in her meager 1 1/2 page author notes as to what historical basis she has for including those in her story.  Get it from the library if you must, I’m glad I did. A very very generous three stars.  Honestly I think you’re better off with Dumas – try The Two Dianas and La Reine Margot.

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