The Italian Woman by Jean Plaidy – Book Review

The Italian Woman by Jean Plaidy
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

From the publisher:

When Catherine de’ Medici was forced to marry Henry, Duke of Orleans, her heart was not the only one that was broken. Jeanne of Navarre once dreamed of marrying this same prince, but, like Catherine, she must comply with France’s political needs. And so both Catherine’s and Jeanne’s lives are set on unwanted paths, destined to cross in affairs of state, love, and faith, driving them to become deadly political rivals.

Years later Jeanne is happily married to the dashing but politically inept Antoine de Bourbon. But the widowed Catherine is now the ambitious mother of princes, and she will do anything to see her beloved second son, Henry, rule France. As civil war ravages the country and Jeanne fights for the Huguenot cause, Catherine advances along her unholy road, making enemies at every turn.

When I rekindled my love with historical fiction I started with Philippa Gregory – whose The Other Boleyn Girl was everywhere at the time – and quickly moved on to Jean Plaidy, a mega-star in her own right. Written beginning in the 1940s, Plaidy’s work can at times feel slightly dated; occasionally she bases parts of plots on facts that are now out of fashion and her style puts readers at more of a remove from the story than is currently popular. However, she remains a master of telling big, complicated stories. Not for Plaidy is the focus on a single character at the expense of the big picture. She shows what is happening from the perspectives of all of the major players, although unlike many modern novelists she does not feel constrained to attempt to give them equal time, but instead moves to them when their point of view would most inform her story.

The Italian Woman is Plaidy at her best. Although technically the second book in a trilogy, The Italian Woman stands alone absolutely perfectly. Enough context is given to the history that unless you knew that this was the second book in a trilogy, you would simply assume that this is the one portion of Catherine’s life that Plaidy has chosen to explore. And explore it she does. This is not simply Catherine’s life, but this period in the history of France’s ruling family. In fact, Jeanne of Navarre is nearly as prominent a character as Catherine, which is gratifying as she is often virtually ignored in favor of the flashy de Medici.

Historical fiction fans who have not yet experienced Jean Plaidy should certainly do so, and for those with any interest in Catherine de Medici, The Italian Woman is a great place to start.

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Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
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