Review – Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois

Summary: 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 are multiple times when I find Margot playing second fiddle to her family members—given the biographies and historical fiction about her mother, Catherine de Medici, that have been released in the last few years—so I am delighted to find a novel dedicated to Margot. Of course, there’s always Dumas’ Queen Margot which has immortalized Margot along with her own autobiographies, but hey, a girl can always use more Margot particularly when she is such an intriguing character in her own right.

This novel actually covers only a part of Margot’s very exciting life—it is essentially a coming of age story. And what a coming of age story! Most of us struggle during our teenage years as we slowly form our own identities, indulge in budding romances that seem sweeter than honey because it is our first love, and argue with those who possess more wisdom than us. Well Margot goes through the same thing—except she also has to deal with one of the craziest families in the world, a religious war in the background, and she is asked to be bait for her family’s enemies as well as be a peacemaker. No easy task, particularly when Margot to eventually decide to become her own person as oppose her formidable mother’s willing pawn.  Perinot does a fantastic job in laying out the family dynamics, the position that France is in internationally and domestically, the intricate politics, and demonstrating how Margot is actually pivotal to her country’s future while being a teenage girl.  Margot undergoes tremendous growth as a character and I definitely see the very strong and charismatic woman emerge by the end of the book, which is a huge leap from the shy and approval-seeking girl at the beginning of the book. While Margot is far from perfect, she is very realistic without Perinot being overly sympathetic or biased towards her.

The novel is told from Margot’s POV, but Perinot fleshes out the supporting characters in an excellent manner as well as establish the various relationships Margot has with them. Everyone is complex and they are not evil just for the sake of being evil—again I come back to Catherine de Medici (amongst the many other characters). She often makes questionable choices regarding Margot’s life. Yet it makes sense, because Margot is the remaining princess of France that Catherine has to broker an alliance that will keep her (and her sons) in power.

The rest of the family are just as despicable or likeable or both, depending when and who. My favourite relationship is the one between Margot and Anjou, where they are the most devoted siblings at the beginning and eventually things take a much darker turn. When Perinot crafts relationships, she doesn’t merely just build them but they also serve a purpose in plot or development of a character. In this case, when the sibling relationship sours, it allows Margot to become more clear-eyed about her family and the intrigue that surrounds her as well as ultimately give her motivation to make the choices that she did to further the plot along.

Given that Margot lives with some of the smartest schemers and plotters of the era, I am thrilled to note that there are plenty of political partnerships, betrayals, backstabbing, and more betrayal that brings history alive. The tension between the Catholics and Huguenots is so thick one can slice it with a knife. I also really appreciate how Perinot makes it clear that both sides have fanatics and clearly lay out the foundations to the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day right away Margot’s marriage.

As I have mention, this book is a coming of age story hence the plot will be mainly driven by what is occurring to Margot and the events that have a direct impact on her life. While it is chronicling a teenage princess’s years, the plot is fast-paced and plenty events occur. There is never a dull moment as the political and family connections shift and the players in the religious wars become more and less powerful.

In fact, I love this book, Margot, her crazy family and Navarre (her husband) so much that I am let down by de Guise. A decent portion of the book is devoted to the romantic relationship between Margot and de Guise, and while I appreciate this relationship and how it helps propel Margot’s character into a worldlier one, I never find de Guise to be swoon-worthy. Of course, I also did not read this book for the romance and given that Margot is a teenage girl with hormones despite also being a princess who has very high stakes surrounding her, I think it is a minor quibble.

The only other quibble that I have is that Margot’s female friends are the only supporting characters who are not as richly developed as the rest of the cast. Their friendship is tight but as a reader I am told that they are best friends because they are best friends, and it is something that is not further elaborated on. I believe it is a pity since the female camaraderie is a refreshing change from most books where females are pitted against each other. While there are females (and males) that are pit against each other, it is never because of popularity reasons or looks; it is often for political necessity and survival, which makes much more sense the 16th century French Court.

While the book ends quite early in Margot’s life (right after a very eventful St. Bartholomew’s Day), it makes sense in terms of Margot’s character growth and the development of the relationships in this book. My biggest wish is that Perinot will write a direct sequel featuring this cast again; she clearly has a knack for explaining the intricacies of the era as well as the very real depiction of historical figures, and I sorely need more time with Margot who I have come to adore.

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