Sunday, October 03, 2010

Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis

For the past few years, I've visited Europe once a year.  As anyone who has ever been to Europe knows, it's impossible to visit without seeing buildings that once housed royalty.  Much to my own embarrassment, I don't know a whole lot about the history of these building or the people who once inhabited them.  My history classes were taught by football coaches.  While I'm visiting, I read what I can at the location or in my guidebook and always wish I knew more, and then make plans to do more research before my next trip.  As soon as I return home, I visit the library, and check out a stack of books about the Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette.  Usually they sit in a stack by my bed for a few months, then summer fades and I become too busy with school to read and by the time summer rolls around again and I'm packing my bags for Europe, I find myself really wishing I'd read those books.  (I should clarify, I'm not completely ignorant, probably know a bit more about history than the average person, but I'm the sort who always wants to know more and when I'm walking through the Tower of London or the Palace of Versailles, I get frustrated when I can't quickly identify the names and time periods and activities of the people mentioned on the placards.)

This summer in Paris, I wandered into the Gardens of Luxembourg and saw the Medici fountain.  I didn't even though the Medici family ruled in France -- that's how ignorant I was on this.  I knew of this family only through their connection with Florence.

Shortly after returning from Paris, while at the library, I noticed this book, The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici.  (I'd seen the book once before my trip, at a book store, but at the time I was looking for novels about the Tudors, so I set it aside, but added it to my reading list.)  The Medici fountain still fresh on my mind, I checked out the book.

I have to admit, I also was intrigued by the mention of the Queen's association with dark magic.  Magic is something I find of interest, especially the role it has played in history.  We live in a society that wants us to believe that all magic is nothing more than fiction, despite proof that it's been around for centuries.

I was a little hesitant about the book after reading some other reviews, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It's a well written, interesting story.  There are some soap opera-ish elements to the story, which make it quite intriguing, but I'm not sure of the accuracy.  It's a novel, not a history book, so, of course, some liberties were taken.  The conversation is written in a modern tone, which makes the story accessible, in my opinion. 

I found Catherine to be a fascinating character.  She was very determined to save herself and especially those she cared about.  However, this determination often caused her to make some dangerous decisions.  The character in the story realizes too late the mistakes she's made and finds herself in a difficult position to try to remedy what she's done.

Also, a benefit of the novel is that it did provide some historical information about this time period and these people.  Catherine's sons are kings during a time in which France was involved in a very bloody religious wars.  Such good Christians, slaughtering people to prove their way of worship is better. 

What I liked best about the book though is that Catherine is living in the Louvre during her time in Paris.  The Louvre is my favorite place in Paris, maybe my favorite place in the world.  Not only does it house thousands of works of art, but was also once a royal residence.  Every time I visit, I think of the artists, as well as the kings and queens that once called that place home.  I enjoyed reading this and trying to picture the events happening in the same corridors where millions of tourists now wander to view art.  Now though, I am in search of a map of the Louvre during the time of Catherine de Medici, so that I can see what parts of the building she and her family occupied, because I know that over the last few centuries there have been many changes to the former fortress.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it has prompted me to seek out more information about the people mentioned in the story.  Also, I should probably mention, the Medici fountain isn't even named after Catherine, but rather another Medici who only has one mention in this book.  Marie de Medici's role in French history didn't happen until after the events in this book.

finished reading: Oct. 3, 2010

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