Friday, September 30, 2011

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on September 29th. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

For fans of historical fiction writers like Philippa Gregory, or television series like The Tudors or The Borgias, I have good news! A relatively new author has emerged with the same spellbinding ability to piece together the remarkable personal lives of legendary historical figures. California author C.W. Gortner uses the same basic formula as Philippa Gregory – a first-person narrative of the life of a major historical figure – to great advantage.

In The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, Gortner tackles the incredible life of his titular subject with thorough research and empathic zeal. A contemporary of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England, Catherine de Medici suffers a traumatic childhood courtesy of the religious uprisings against her uncle, the corrupt Pope Clement VII. When these uprisings finally take everything from Catherine, she is coldly traded in marriage to Henri, son of the king of France. After the deaths of Henri’s father and older brother, Catherine finds herself queen of a nation torn between Catholicism and the Huguenots, facing changeable allies willing to exploit France’s strife to their own glory.

Her reign as Queen and Queen Mother is legendary for ruthlessness and bloodthirsty diplomatic techniques. However, as Gortner notes in his author’s afterword, his research revealed a very different side of her, one that would protect her family and France at all costs. Gortner’s weaving of grizzly elements like the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre with his version of Catherine’s inner dialogue constructs a character of surprising compassion, whatever her other flaws (which are fortunately many, and thoroughly engrossing).

Gortner also doesn’t shy away from some of the more salacious rumours about Catherine’s time in power. Her alleged propensity for second sight is investigated, as is her tumultuous affair with Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny. These are just a couple examples – for a woman as committed to her family and country as Catherine was, she lived in an uncompromising age and was often forced to make impossible choices. Within these pages lie more betrayal, intrigue, lust and murder than even the most outrageous soap operas could aspire to include. Gortner glamours his readers with thorough research draped in captivating language, creating a fascinating cast of characters with their own distinct voices. For fans of the historical fiction genre, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is a dishy, ripping read almost guaranteed to satisfy.

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