I have a confession: I’ve never actually been very fond of Jean Plaidy’s books. They’ve always seemed very popular to me with other historical fiction bloggers, but I haven’t actually reviewed any of them here. I read a couple of her Tudor books way back before I started blogging, so unfortunately I remember very little other than the fact that they were uninspiring. I was completely in love with historical fiction seven years ago, particularly the Tudors, so this was a huge disappointment. Then a few months ago I got the re-releases of her Catherine de Medici trilogy for review. They sat for those few months, as they were unsolicited and I wasn’t sure I’d like them, but I brought them over to the UK with me because they were light and I really should beef up my historical fiction reading again.
Imagine my surprise when I cracked open Madame Serpent and found myself enjoying it – a lot! Catherine is very young in this book and I loved watching her turn into her more famous, scheming incarnation over the course of this novel. Starting in Italy, Catherine endures the difficulties of Florentine instability at a young age; her uncle, the Pope, decides that the Medici family is destined for further greatness and arranges her marriage to one of the French King Francis’s sons, Henry. Henry isn’t the heir, but for an essentially merchant family marrying into the greatest monarchy of the time, this is a huge step. Catherine’s feelings are never a consideration, of course; her love for her cousin and her country is dismissed. Catherine’s character is tested even further when she discovers that the heart of her young husband has already been captured by a much older woman, Diane de Poitiers, and while she falls passionately in love with him, she must watch him long for another woman.
Though the novel flips around between the perspective of several different characters, Catherine is very obviously the primary focus from the start; everyone else’s narrative simply exists to flesh out the space around hers. This book is a lot of set-up, as it’s the first in an entire trilogy about Catherine, covering her life from her childhood up to the birth of her youngest child. I find that most historical fiction focused on women slows down drastically when the main character starts having babies, mostly because they spend a lot of time having children and then recovering from having children, and there is a little bit of that here, but nothing particularly drastic. In addition, the author needs to set up Catherine’s relationships with her children, as I have a feeling they’ll be adding considerably to her later years.
Primarily, what this book shows is that, when Catherine is dismissed as a weak woman whose only function is to bear heirs to the French throne, when her family and her husband neglect her, and when she reaches the very end of her rope, she’s able to find the strength inside to subvert all expectations and become very powerful indeed. I have the feeling I will enjoy the rest of this trilogy greatly, and I’m very glad to have the next two books already waiting on the shelves.
I received this book for free for review. All external book links are affiliate links.