Jeanne Kalogridis has a lovely way with words. She uses gorgeous word choice and description to enhance the reader’s understanding of the story and the characters and draw even the skeptical readers into the magic-entwined world of the Medici family and its effect on European history. She paints a realistic view of a time filled with political intrigue and power struggles where women were pawns to be sold in marriage and religious differences were an excuse for civil war. Although disturbing, the magic in this novel is intended to show how the characters impact history and often hurt themselves and those they care about. Occasionally Kalogridis ascribes contemporary ideas of tolerance or morals to Catherine that do not seem realistic with the setting.
This sympathetic portrait of Catherine de Medici shows her to be a sweet girl set on doing what she believed to be right and yet sometimes realizing too late that the results of her actions did not always produce the good result she intended. Catherine goes to great lengths by involving herself in astrology and other magic to protect those she loves. Everyone sees the kindness of her heart, but she feels increasingly burdened and weighed down by the evil she commits – or commands others to commit – and the unforeseen horrible events that follow. Her dreams of the future cause her to believe that her destiny is to save all who cry out to her for help, but each magic she invokes lead her and those she loves further into the despair she dreams of. It seemed that the novel was a commentary on a person’s inability to truly cheat or change fate. The law of he universe remains a life for a life.
The saddest part to me was that she failed to see an alternative to her actions. She said that God did not listen to her prayers, but she does not attempt to pray. She felt that her only option was to rely on magic. I could not help but wonder which events would have occurred without her magical intervention and which were truly dependent upon them. Of course, within this novel’s world we are to believe that all events are directly caused by the movement of the stars through each person’s natal chart and thus were destiny. Magic could appease the stars for a time, but eventually destiny would triumph.
One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that it is based in history. Real quotes are lifted from the historical records and inserted skillfully into the narrative. Catherine truly did have dreams that revealed the future and she was a friend to magicians and Nostradamus. She was blamed for the massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Day. Jeanne Kalogridis seeks to show the softer, loving side of Catherine de Medici who wanted only to protect those she loved and bring peace to France. To this end she changed a few details that would make Catherine unsympathetic to today’s readers. She also changed the name of Catherine’s third son who became King of France. I wish she had included more about the other contributions Catherine de Medici brought to France: pastry, art, architecture and music. It is a very interesting and well-written novel.