Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys – Book Review

Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks

Five years after the death of Vlad Dracula, the Turks are encroaching more and more on Christian lands. If only the Order of the Dragon had not been discredited when Vlad was, it could still serve as a tool of Crusade for Christendom. In an effort to rehabilitate both Vlad and the Order of the Dragon, the three people who best knew him have been brought to one of his former castles to make confession on his behalf, telling Vlad’s story from his captivity with the Turks through the height of his power and cruelty, on to the time of his discrediting.

Vlad: The Last Confessions is the certainly the story of the ‘real’ Dracula, but more than that, it is a story of how history is written and warped to fit the needs of the victors:

The listeners had been fashioning their own Vlad, according to their needs. For Petru it was simple. he wanted the man who built the castle he commanded to be a hero; more, a Wallachian hero. He had heard of a time of justice, order, strength in his land. Of the smiting of Christ’s foes. He wanted that time again.-p. 69

At one time it was expedient for both the Turks and Hungarians to paint Vlad as a monster, but Vlad: The Last Confession posits a time when it may have been necessary for other European Christians to try to clear his name. The truth will never exonerate Vlad entirely, he was by no means a benevolent ruler, but it does shed a light on his motivations, which may have been more complex than cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

So laughed, the sound harsh. “So I have become a tale to amuse fat burghers over their suppers, and to hush their children with terror when they will not sleep,” He lifted his goblet, drank, set it down. “All I did, all the measures I took for Wallachia, against thieves and traitors and Infidels, come to this.” He jabbed a finger at the pamphlet. “Me, reduced to a blood-sucking monster.” -p. 327

The device of telling Vlad’s story through those who knew him best worked very well. In practice it meant that most of Vlad’s story could be told as a seamless narrative. The impression is that all three confidants are telling the story in an integrated fashion, picking up where another left off, coming back to the scene in the castle only when exposition is needed. Some of the scenes of war and violence got a bit old after awhile, but it would have been difficult to avoid them, as they were a very significant part of Vlad’s life.

Overall, Vlad: The Last Confession was an interesting and engaging look at the life of Vlad Dracula and how history is shaped by political needs. Recommended.

For a more in-depth discussion of the book and Humphreys’s inspiration for it, please check out my interview with him on my podcast, What’s Old is New.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* 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 Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner – Book Review

The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner

Catherine de Medici’s early life was rocky. She was orphaned mere weeks after her birth, then at 8 was forcibly placed in a hostile convent when Medici power was overthrown in Florence. Finally, at 11, she was able to go live with her uncle, Pope Clement VII. Rome having recently been sacked by the troops of King Charles of Spain, Clement saw Catherine as an opportunity to cement an alliance with France by wedding her to Henry, second son of King Francois.

Unfortunately, Catherine and Henry didn’t exactly have a fairy tale marriage, since he was far more interested in his nursemaid-turned-mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Catherine’s early denigration at Henry’s neglectful hands require her to become politically savvy and crafty, a trait that will serve her well when she has to advise her son the King – or will it.

I’ve loved C.W. Gortner’s writing since his debut novel, “The Last Queen.” One of my favorite things about him is that he does not simply write the same story that is already dominating the shelves, but chooses amazingly strong and misunderstood women in history, women whose stories are still fresh to the reader. Catherine de Medici is no exception. A patron of Nostradamus, Catherine’s mythology includes a woman who practices dark magic and planned the massacre of France’s Huguenots in the St. Bartolomew’s Day Massacre.

Gortner’s Catherine knows what it is to be persecuted for who you are from the days when the Medicis were overthrown in Florence, and accordingly she actually has a good deal of sympathy for the plight of the Huguenots and advocates a measure of religious tolerance. When conflict between the Catholics and Protestants begins to threaten her familys reign, however, she is forced to take action.

A good half of “Confessions of Catherine de Medici” focused on the conflict between the Catholics and Huguenots, leading up to and following the St. Bartolomew’s Day Massacre. This could have perhaps been overkill, but Gortner made it work very well. I never felt that I’d been reading the same thing over and over, but he kept the story moving forward, even though it was progressing through one main source of conflict.

I highly recommend “The Confessions of Catherine de Medici,” and I can only hope that Gortner is hard at work on another book!

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

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.
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