C. W. Gortner
So I did the extensive research of looking her up. I used Wikipedia.
The European history buff in me prevailed and I decided this one had a pretty cover so perhaps the story would be acceptable. Oh. My. Gosh. I was incredibly surprised by the storytelling. I could not put the book down. Although the story follows much of Wikipedia's account of Catherine, the author tells a story of the time period and of Catherine, a woman both loved and hated during her life and death.
Catholicism was still the rage in the sixteenth century, although John Calvin, Martin Luther, and others had cast a shadow on the prevailing church's worship practices. Catherine was very small when her Italian city was thrown into a civil war. She suffered terribly during her imprisonment but was eventually rescued by her Uncle Clement, the pope. Shortly thereafter, however, she was sent to France to marry Henry, the son of Francois, the current king of France. It was a political move, as all royal unions tend to be. Unbeknownst to Catherine, she entered a royal court full of adultery (the most glaring being her husband's), petty gossip, and negotiation for power.
The dauphin, the next in line, dies, leaving Henry the next king. Eventually, the old king dies and bequeaths the crown to Henry and Catherine becomes queen. By this time, she has finally given birth to a son and follows up with 8 more children. The king dies leaving Catherine the odious task of becoming a has-been. She watches the social climbers and new powers take over son's sovereignty and then he dies without leaving an heir. The next son is only 11 years old. She appoints herself as regent and rules until his death, again leaving no heir. The next son steps up, using Catherine as his playbook.
Meanwhile, Protestant and Catholic wage wars against one another. It is brutal. Catherine tries to remain non-partisan while maintaining her Roman Catholic roots but eventually makes decisions that may have contributed to the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Huge. Really huge and not at all pretty.
The author writes a story that leaves Catherine as a heroine rather than a persecutor. While he does not beatify her, her reasons are explained the reader is drawn into her world and her sorrow. Why did she laugh as Navarre was forced to renounce his Protestant faith and join the Catholic church? It's in the book. Did she really order the deaths of all Protestants in France on that fateful night? What could have driven a woman to take such desperate measures? Or did she?
The book is well written and has clear and concise descriptions. Catherine endears herself to the reader who feels empathy for the protagonist. By the end of the book, and of Catherine's life, the reader understands more clearly how being royalty in this time period left few choices in marriage and others often pulled the puppet strings. How much manipulation plays a part is brutally brought to light.
The writing and story are excellent. I kept having to turn the page to find out what happens next. It is definitely not boring by any stretch. I also did not find myself getting lost with too many characters. Although complex, the relationship to Catherine and her children is generally quite clear. Gortner's research is meticulously done.
I just so happen to have an extra copy. If you want it, let me know in a comment. I'll choose a winner on June 8th.
U.S. residents only, please.
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