The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis
The Medici family must be one of the most famous in Western history, perhaps excepting the Tudors. Aside from Lorenzo Il Magnifico and a couple of Popes, Catherine de Medici is probably the Medici people are most likely to have heard of. Even so, I knew very little about Catherine, just that she was mother-in-law to Mary Queen of Scots and that she was one of the instigators of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots. I always love learning about new to me historical figures, so I jumped at the chance to review this when it was offered to me by St. Martin’s Press.
Catherine was young during a time of great unrest in her native Florence. There were many who wanted to make Florence a republic, and they were not overly fond of the Medicis. Catherine actually spent three years of her young life in the rebels’ captivity in one of two convents. When finally freed and sent to her uncle Pope Clement, Catherine was promised by her uncle to Henri Valois, the second son of King Francois Valois of France – you Tudor fanatics know Francois, he is the king who called Mary Boleyn ‘The English Mare’ and wrestled Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. When Francois’ oldest son dies, Catherine suddenly becomes the Dauphine and the next Queen of France.
Catherine’s story is absolutely fascinating. According to Kalogridis’ afterword, Catherine’s “collection of talismans and interest in magic were legendary…” Based on this, Kalogridis creates a life for Catherine that is largely dependent on the magic done by and with Catherine’s court magician Ruggieri. In “The Devil’s Queen” Ruggieri’s rituals and talismans help Catherine survive the clutch of the rebels, give Henri a longer lease on life, and help Catherine give Henri children. I’m fairly sure that Ruggieri’s specific actions and the exact things that Catherine asked of him are not in the historical record, but since her interest in astrology is on record, I was okay with these liberties in general. There was one twist near the end that made me scoff a bit. I wish that Kalogridis had addressed that little gem in her author’s note, but by the time we got to that twist I was so thoroughly engrossed in the book that it didn’t bother me too much.
Kalogridis is clearly a skilled writer. I am not sure that many other authors could have had me so into a book where magical rituals are undertaken to successfully give a queen children. Perhaps the best proof of her skill, though, is the fact that she made Catherine so sympathetic. A woman who practices dark magic and orders the slaughter of so many people with different beliefs really shouldn’t be sympathetic, as a general rule. Catherine approaches this magic with a very practical attitude, she is simply doing what she must to protect her family and nothing more. But what really made me love her is that she is not without regret and guilt for her actions. She believes that she is damned for her actions of self-preservation and mourns that fact (although not enough to stop protecting her family).
I really enjoyed “The Devil’s Queen.” It has me anxious to read more about Catherine and more from Kalogridis.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me “The Devil’s Queen” to review.