Reviewed by Shannon Hopkins
“You’ll fare better without love. We Medici always do.”
The story of sixteenth-century Europe cannot be told without telling of Catherine de Medici, the last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici family of Florence. Hers is not an easy story, for her reign as Queen of France and Queen Mother during the reigns of three sons was fraught with conflict and tragedy. In The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, author C.W. Gortner digs beneath historical canon to reveal a woman both pragmatic and passionate, who devoted her life to defending the country she came to call home and the last branches of the Valois line who would rule it.
Ten-year-old Caterina de’ Medici has visions, portents of the future she can neither control nor understand. When her aunt takes her to a trusted seer for guidance, he shares with her that she is to fulfill a grand destiny – “It may not be the destiny you want, Caterina de’ Medici, but fulfill it you will.” (p. 15)
Four years later, Catherine is married to the Duc d’Orleans, second son of King Francois I of France, and as she acclimates to the French court she must overcome the rumors surrounding her marriage and bear a son to secure the succession. As the story progresses through years and decades, Catherine recounts the end of the Valois dynasty that claims the lives of her husband, two of her sons, and countless thousands of French citizens who engaged in civil war, Catholic against Huguenot. Her own inexperience in statecraft and her single-minded focus on protecting her children provide hard and often tragic lessons; despite all, however, Catherine rises to every challenge and sees her many visions come to pass.
The Confessions is a heartfelt look into the life of one of history’s more enigmatic royal figures. Catherine is alternately revered and reviled, feared by those who fail to understand the motivations behind her actions. Gortner transports the reader back to sixteenth-century France and surrounds her with such dynamic characters that she comes out of the reading a bit shocked to be sitting on a couch rather than traveling in a royal convoy. Through his excellent writing the Valois and their countrymen become far more than footnotes in a history book; they come alive once more.
Any lover of historical fiction will have a hard time putting this down, and anybody looking for a well-written and moving narrative need look no further.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fiancé and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t planning her wedding. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Close, scouring Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas, and trying out new recipes on unsuspecting friends – always with a book nearby.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Ballantine Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.