Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review: MÉDICIS DAUGHTER by Sophie Perinot

It’s about time! Time to give the Tudors some competition. Time to show that the history of sixteenth century France is just as, if not more, gripping than that of Henry’s and Elizabeth’s England. Time to bring to vivid life the historical players who stalked the halls of the Louvre and Fontainebleau pursuing goals as grandiose, hatching plots as intricate, and delighting in loves as passionate as those of any of Henry’s wives or Elizabeth’s courtiers.

In MÉDICIS DAUGHTER (St. Martin’s Press), Sophie Perinot rises to the challenge, offering a glimpse into the spectacular, turbulent years of the waning Valois dynasty. The novel’s namesake, unmarried princess Marguerite of Valois, comes of age as the Catholic monarchy’s uneasy toleration of the reformed religion dissolves and war breaks out between Protestants and Catholics. Raised in the full knowledge that her marriage must ultimately serve the politics of France, Marguerite expects her marriage to bolster one of France’s traditional alliances against the growing religious threat. But plans to wed her to a Catholic monarch fail, and Marguerite's mother Catherine de Médicis, the true power behind the unstable king, decides upon another course: Marguerite will marry Henri, King of Navarre, leader of the Protestant faction. Marguerite has little respect and even less inclination for her unsophisticated, heretical cousin, especially since she has given her heart to the dashing Henri, duc de Guise, scion of the powerful Catholic House of Lorraine. But she has little say in the matter, and when the occasion of her marriage results in one of the bloodiest religious massacres of French history, Marguerite must choose between betraying a man of principle in order to win her own happiness or freeing herself of her mother's pernicious dominion once and for all.

Told in the first person from Marguerite's perspective, the story covers about a decade of her life, from the age of ten through the early weeks of her marriage at nineteen. It is, in many respects, a standard coming-of-age story. Marguerite seeks to define herself within the parameters of her family and her station as she matures from obedient daughter to independent woman. Focus falls intently on her relationship with her despotic mother, the widowed Catherine de Médicis, who favors her sons and schemes to retain power over them and the kingdom. Marguerite's singular relationship with her brother the duc d'Anjou takes center stage for a good while and flirts closely enough with the salacious to justify the characters' actions and motivations later in the book. As in any good coming-of-age story, friendship features prominently, as Marguerite learns both to trust and to serve her closest confidantes. These friends in turn facilitate her ardent, dangerous affair with Henri de Guise, who schools her in the arts of love and deception.

These coming-of-age elements are well-handled and engaging, but the story picks up steam and increases in emotional complexity once Marguerite finds herself engaged to Henri of Navarre. Forced into marriage with a man whose manners and appearance she scorned and whose commitment to the reform offends her faith, Marguerite must draw on all she has learned to determine her course. As her relationship with the king evolves in unforeseen ways, she takes full and total ownership of the person she becomes. The incredible horror and ongoing violence of the times demand she take a stand against injustice and display the courage, wisdom, and integrity her previous experiences have helped to refine.

Though the era's religious history is a central and inextricable element of the novel's plot, details and doctrine never hamper the dramatic action of MÉDICIS DAUGHTER. Perinot escorts the reader with confidence and aplomb through the unfamiliar landscape of the Wars of Religion and the late Valois court, ably teasing from its rich soil nuggets of story with universal significance and appeal. Readers will be swept up in the challenges and choices Marguerite faces as she defines the roles of daughter, sister, wife, woman, and queen on her own terms. A compelling and thoroughly satisfying read sure to ignite interest in the era, MÉDICIS DAUGHTER depicts the pageantry and ugliness of sixteenth century court life in all its gritty glory.

Return tomorrow to read my interview with Sophie about the novel and the history it depicts.

Sophie Perinot is the author of THE SISTER QUEENS and one of six contributing authors of A DAY OF FIRE: A NOVEL OF POMPEII. A former attorney, Perinot is now a full-time writer. She lives in Great Falls, Virginia with her three children, three cats, one dog and one husband.

An active member of the Historical Novel Society, Sophie has attended all of the group's North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times. Find her among the literary twitterati as @Lit_gal or on Facebook.


Vicki Kondelik said...

This sounds wonderful! I'm looking forward to reading it. Have you read The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone, a recent biography of Marguerite and Catherine?

Julianne Douglas said...

No, I haven't read Goldstone's biography yet...I'll have to look for it!