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.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Elizabeth I by Margaret George – Book Review

Elizabeth I by Margaret George
Published by Penguin Paperbacks, an imprint of Penguin

Much has been written about Elizabeth I, but the majority of it seems to concentrate on the earlier years of her life. Her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour, her life under her sister Mary’s Catholic rule, and the relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley (were they lovers? did he kill his wife in hopes of marrying Elizabeth?) all are highly scrutinized events in historical fiction. The latter part of the reign of Gloriana, however, tends to be largely glossed over. After executing her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, most novelists seem to think that Elizabeth has little else of note, other than the battle with the Spanish Armada and perhaps a few pages about the execution of the Earl of Essex.

Margaret George, however, gifts her readers with an indepth look at Elizabeth’s later years with her latest book, Elizabeth I. George’s book begins with England’s first battle with the Armada, instead of ending there. What follows is the story of a woman at the height of her powers as she begins the decline into old age. Of particular emphasis is Elizabeth’s tumultuous relationship with the Earl of Essex, a man who goes from being a pet of hers to a major threat to her throne.

I must admit, the narrow scope of George’s book surprised me. I’ve previously read her books on Cleopatra and Henry VIII, and they are sweeping epics, covering the majority of the subjects’ lives. Elizabeth I compares to these earlier novels in length, but covering only 15 or so years, it marks a change in style for George; it is not a view of Elizabeth’s entire life, or even her entire reign, but a close look at the events at the end of her life. That period given less than 50 pages by so many novelists is granted nearly 700 pages in George’s work, enabling her to go deep into Elizabeth’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, as well as those of the people around her.

Of particular interest are the sections narrated by Elizabeth’s cousin Lettice. Lettice is often described in novels as looking very like Elizabeth, but even prettier, which would not have endeared her to the queen. The real break between the cousins came, however, when Lettice married Elizabeth’s beloved courtier Robert Dudley (he of the ‘did-they-didn’t-they’ relationship). What is often glossed over, though, is the fact that Lettice was also the mother of the rebellious Earl of Essex, a role that put her even more at odds with her queen.

It is really quite amazing how much new understanding George is able to bring to such an often memorialized woman, reign, and time period. She excels at spending just enough time on events that she is able to convey the full extent of their significance, but not so much time that she belabors her point or bores the reader. Although Elizabeth I is quite long, it never feels overly so. Margaret George has proved once again that she is perhaps the consummate historical novelist of our time. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Princeling by Cynthia Harrod Eagles – Book Review

The Princeling by Cynthia Harrod Eagles
Published by Sourcebooks

Third in the Morland Dynasty series, I have previously reviewed the first two books. This review contains no major spoilers for the previous two books.

Set against the backdrop of Elizabeth I’s reign, this could alternately be titled: The one in which I lose interest in the Morland Dynasty series.

Don’t get me wrong, “The Princeling” is no mid-series slump (and, frankly, it is not even mid-series, there are at least 30 of the Morland Dynasty books). Harrod Eagles still does a fabulous job walking the line of getting across what is happening in England at the time these particular Morlands are living and not making it seem that she has forced them into every single event in English history. The events in which they do take part happen naturally and absolutely work as a consistent story. Even what I know she glosses over works for me, because it is simply not what was concerning the Morlands at that time.

Additionally, it is nothing short of amazing how many characters Harrod Eagles can help the reader keep track of, without sounding condescending about it. I very rarely had to stop and ask myself, “now who was that?” A major feat indeed, with so many generations passed since the events of “The Founding” and Eleanor’s descendants so spread out. Clearly she is a very skilled storyteller and does epic history very well indeed.

However, I find that the farther removed I get from Eleanor, the less I personally care about any of her progeny. In “The Dark Rose,” I attached myself to Nannette as my main character of interest but, although she reappears in this book, she is seen a great deal less. It seems as if the story is more fractured in general, paying more attention to more different characters with less of a single, sympathetic protagonist to give anchor to the book. On one hand, this technique broadens the amount of England’s story at this given time that can be told by this one family, but on the other it left me without much of a connection to the book, although that was a purely personal response and may not be shared by others reading this series.

I was also quite put off by the suggestion that one of the boys and his mother had a (never acted upon) love that went beyond that of mother and child. Here is a passage regarding the two of them from page 18, when he would have been a young boy:

“It is John,” Elizabeth exclaimed, and got up and went to the window. She looked down and her face coloured as she waved to the person below, smiling with a tenderness that would not have looked strange on the face of a lover.

This, along with a Morland girl deeply in love with the husband who made her his with rape and whom she great fears, coming so close on the heels of the creepily passionate uncle to half-niece love from “The Dark Rose” really just turned me off. Yes, they are relatively minor parts of the book, but they really stuck with and bothered me. Enough that, in addition to my relatively lack of interest in the characters has probably decreed that this is my last Morland Dynasty book.

Even though I wasn’t completely enamored of this iteration, I would still absolutely recommend that fans of British historical fiction check out this series. Since it is simply the story of a family, you can really start or stop from anywhere, although there is some continuity of the story from book to book, but you aren’t emotionally manipulated by cliffhangers to continue if you do happen to lose interest as I did.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.