Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

From the Back Cover:

Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.

Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.

Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.

My Thoughts:

I loved Sophie Perinot's debut novel, The Sister Queens, and I have been anxiously awaiting the release of her second book. Having read several books about Catherine de Medici, I was familiar with her daughter Margot, but not intimately, and this novel brings one of the unsung heroes of the house of Valois and the Wars of Religion to life. From a sweet, eager, naive child to a teenager warped by her family's ruthless quest for power, a pawn used by her mother and brothers, and then a young woman seizing control of her own destiny, Margot's story is one of love, sacrifice, heartbreak, and redemption.

As a child desperate to please her powerful and, quite frankly, terrifying mother, Margot enters the French court determined to be a dutiful and exemplary princess of France, and she realizes the best way for her to do this is by securing an advantageous marriage with one of Europe's most powerful men. A beautiful girl by all accounts, her family attempts to match her with one prince after another, and Margot desperately wants to be a wife and future queen . . . until she falls in love with the young Duc de Guise, heir to the powerful family that wielded much influence over politics in France and made enemies of her mother and brothers. Their heartbreaking relationship is a real-life Romeo and Juliet tale. It could have been a union that united a fractured France, but instead it became one that ripped the Valois family apart and led to an even deeper divide between the ruling families, setting the stage for the War of the Three Henrys.

After spending so many years thinking she would marry a powerful foreign prince, Margot is devastated to be forced into marriage with her country cousin, Henri of Navarre, in a last-ditch effort by her family to stem the growing religious unrest between Catholics and Huguenots. Still reeling from her tattered relationship with Guise and put off by childhood memories of her boorish cousin, she determines to take the reins in her new marriage, and the pair form an unexpected alliance. But both she and her new husband have been misled, and their wedding celebration quickly becomes a bloodbath. During a thrilling and horrifying climax as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre rages in the castle and the city beyond, Margot finds herself at moral odds with her family and her former lover and must find the courage to defend her husband's life as well as her own, sacrificing her future happiness with a series of bold decisions that will forever change the course of history.

In the days after finishing this novel, my mind kept returning to it, to the utter sense of helplessness and powerlessness that even one of the most exalted women in the land was subject to. Margot is a worthy heroine, hemmed in by the circumstances of her birth and her gender, at the mercy of her brutal family, coming of age in one of the most twisted times in French history, and yet she manages to navigate a debauched court with grace and modesty and to hold her ground and take a stand for what is right in the face of overwhelming odds and far-reaching consequences. I savored this emotional and gripping tale of an extraordinary woman who is often judged by history for her love life, but who deserves to be remembered for the courageous stand she made against the most powerful woman in Europe.

This novel ends on a high note with Margot triumphant, and I completely understand the author's decision to focus on this portion of Margot's life because of the lasting effect it has on history, but so much drama happens in her life after the end of this book, so it's not a complete picture. Her relationship with Henri of Navarre turns caustic and is eventually annulled, and she never does reconcile with her family and is later imprisoned by them for many years. Then she becomes Queen of France. The tales of her romantic and sexual exploits earn her the enmity of the people of France, and her published memoirs scandalize the country. So I am keeping my fingers crossed for the juicy sequel the rest of her life would make in Sophie Perinot's capable hands!

My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and I was not compensated in any other way.

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