Title: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Author: C.W. Gortner
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, C.W. Gortner takes us inside the mind of one of the most notorious queens in European history. The book begins with her difficult childhood and forced marriage to Henri, the second in line to the French throne. Catherine schemes and plots in order to retain her position and power, especially since her husband shows little interest in her, setting the stage for what is to come.
I didn’t know much about Catherine de Medici going into this novel, but I wasn’t really certain I wanted to read an entire book about her. The little I did know was that she was greatly feared in her lifetime, suspected to be a witch, and was responsible for the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. All in all, while she seemed like an interesting person, it would be difficult to write a sympathetic book about her. Still, I knew it was by C.W. Gortner, who is an excellent author. His previous novel The Last Queen was really an incredible piece of historical fiction, and I knew if anyone could make me sympathetic to Catherine de Medici, it would be him.
And lo and behold, that’s exactly what Gortner did. He presented an entirely new look at Catherine de Medici, one in which she was a victim of her circumstances. Though she did have a lot of power, it was never enough to be able to suppress her enemies. Events happened that were entirely out of her control, though she was blamed for them. She was a vivid, vibrant woman and leaped off the page; Gortner did an incredible job bringing Catherine de Medici to life.
However, Gortner never apologizes for or tries to hide the fact that Catherine was an incredibly ambitious woman. Before herself, before her husband, before her children was France. She was willing to subjugate all of her wishes, and those of her children, in order to ensure that their line stayed on the French throne and did what was best for the country. That’s not to say she was a bad mother, as she did love her children. She just loved France more, and was willing to be horribly ruthless in order to achieve her ends. The key, though, and what makes her a sympathetic, rather than unpalatable, character is that she only used drastic means when she saw no other choices.
The history presented in The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is impeccably researched. The novel was fun to read because I felt like I learned a lot whilst simultaneously being entertained. Gortner is a master of historical fiction, and it shows in every page of the book.
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is an incredibly fresh look at a complicated and misunderstood woman. Yes, Catherine was ambitious and ruthless, but she also was a wife and mother. Her myth has escalated and eclipsed the person she was; Gortner peels away the layers in order to expose the woman she was underneath.