Review: Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

Sunday, November 29, 2015
Title: Médicis Daughter
Author: Sophie Perinot
Genre: historical fiction
Series: n/a
Pages: 384
Published: expected December 1 2015
Source: received for review
Rating: 4.5/5

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.

There's a reason French historical fiction is hard to resist. It's full of such fascinating people, along with pivotal tumultuous times, notorious religious turmoil, and decadently sumptuous courts and courtiers. Sophie Perinot has successfully visited historical France before with her 2012 debut novel The Sister Queens, but this second visit is set during the ancien régime - middle 1500s -  with the infamous Catherine de Médicis and her headstrong and should-be-as-infamous daughter Margot. The House of Valois is known for many things (and its many kings) but this nuanced and creative story exploring the relationship between these two determined women gives new insight into the famous but fractious royal family. 

Catherine de Médicis makes for an easy historical villain, but Perinot takes care to craft her Italian-born French Queen into a three dimensional character for her readers. Catherine is not a particularly nice woman, and her struggles with Margot easily side the reader with the latter, but she is ably characterized under Perinot's pen. The novel centers around  and concerns itself with Marguerite far more than her mother; from her coming out until a week after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, it is the story of France told through her princesse and later queen. 

Margot's life is one that more than warrants exploration and retelling -- without France's Salic Law barring her from politics, she might have been remembered in the same way as Elizabeth I of England. Even with France's skewed gender roles limiting her choices, she was a woman who demanded more from her time, despite the toll it took on her personal happiness while her mother was alive. Her struggle with society, with her mother, with her kingly brothers, are both accurate when known and plausible when the author has to invent to guess at events unknown. Dumas's La Reine Margot may have been the first novel to immortalize this indomitable French Queen, but the version of the queen in Médicis Daughter is the most realistic and believable I've yet come across.

Sophie Perinot has a gift for recreating even well-known eras of history with fresh eyes. Though I've known Margot's life trajectory for years and have even read other fictional books about her mother recently, reading Médicis Daughter was full of new views of events and people I was familiar with. It made me again curious about the French Wars of Religion and then the Guise family - ambitious, powerful, smart. I love when books capture the feel of their inspiration so clearly, as Perinot does here. Her knowledge of the time and place are evident and it helps to make this novel such a well-rendered version of sixteenth century France.


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