Title: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Author: C.W. Gortner
Publisher: Random House
As a very young woman, the last of the illustrious Italian Medicis, Catherine de Medici is sent to France to marry Henri, the son of King Francois I. In France, she is shunned by her new husband in favor of his mistress and is reduced to bargaining for the son needed to secure her future. Catherine eventually carves out a place for herself in her adopted realm, but she is forced to fight for everything she gets. She seizes power to protect the crown for her children. She seeks compromise between the Catholics and the Huguenots to forestall war. She overcomes betrayal, wars, and death to become one of France’s most powerful women.
I have to hand it to Gortner. He pulls you into the story from the very beginning, the very first page. His writing flows – never detracting from the story. The story is where he is king. Catherine de Medici was fascinating, and he pulls a complicated life and set of historical events together into a coherent narrative. If nothing else, this book is an engrossing tale of a legendary woman.
But there are a number of things that didn’t work for me. The plot didn’t flow well. It is understandably difficult with a book spanning more than fifty years, but the pacing was very uneven. The last third of the book, especially, felt rushed. In fact, the whole book kind of fell apart for me in the last third. The idea of this book being written by Catherine herself seemed pointlessly inserted at the end. It took me out of the plot to question why this was necessary. I also felt that the characterization suffered in the last part of the book, because there were so many events to get in.
Though it didn’t completely work for me, historical fiction lovers and anyone interested in this period of French history will enjoy this mostly riveting look at one of history’s misunderstood women.
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by C.W. Gortner