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The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner Book Cover

Title: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

Author: C. W. Gortner

No. of Pages: 397

First Released: 2010

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “‘The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.’

So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.

 The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband’s lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons. She allies herself with the enigmatic Protestant leader Coligny, with whom she shares an intimate secret, and implacably carves a path toward peace, unaware that her own dark fate looms before her—a fate that, if she is to save France, will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, her reputation, and the passion of her embattled heart. “

Comments and Critique: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is a fantastic example of historical fiction. Lush backdrops, details so clear and precise that the images all but leap off the page, a notorious yet mysterious historical figure, a very tumultuous time period – these all combine perfectly to present Catherine’s story as it has never before been told. While still fiction, Gortner does an amazing job of presenting her story with plausibility so that a reader is left questioning whether this were truly the way the events did happen and whether the history books have been wrong for so many years.

Presented in history books as a power-hungry, cold, cruel tyrant devoted to the dark arts, Gortner’s Catherine is sympathetic and all-too-human. She understands too clearly the politics and intrigue that are a necessary part of living as among royalty and knows that her options are very, very limited. Catherine does nothing more than make any sacrifice necessary for the future of her children. Her intentions are clear and never waver, but the perception of those intentions, and consequently her actions, are what cause her to be viewed by royalty and peasants alike with suspicion and dread.

While focusing on Catherine’s story, Gortner also presents life in France during the 16th Century in all its tumultous glory. Life was not easy for royalty and peasantry alike. Everyone had to watch their backs and concern themselves with being reported as a heretic. The constant battle between Catholics and Protestants is reminiscent of the Crusades and even today’s more modern wars in which there is no such thing as compromise. It is unfortunate reminder that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Another interesting aspect of the story is the stark picture of life at the royal court. One had to manuever through the adultery, intrigue, political backstabbing and all other manner of unsavory behavior while presenting to the public the ability to rise above all that. One could never let down one’s guard or believe for a moment that one was safe from the political machinations, greed, and scramble for power that was normal for court life. It had to be an exhausting way of life, as Catherine learned at an early age. Life at court is not the life of privilege one might expect.

Gortner’s realistic descriptions and attention to detail makes it very easy for a reader to imagine living in France while forcing the reader to decide whether Catherine’s actions are justified. The first-person narrative lends an intimacy that also helps the reader truly feel almost communal with Catherine. The effect is a breathtaking blast to the past, one that is filled with enough intrigue and tension to keep any reader on the edge of his or her seat. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici brings history alive.

Thank you to Suzi from Whimpulsive for sending me a copy of this wonderful novel!

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