Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Italian Woman by Jean Plaidy (The Catherine de Medici Trilogy)

When Catherine de' Medici was forced to marry Henry of Orleans, her's was not the only heart broken. Jeanne of Navarre once dreamed of marrying this same prince, but like Catherine, she must bend to the will of King Francis's political needs. And so both Catherine and Jeanne's lives are set on unwanted paths, destined to cross in affairs of state, love and faith, driving them to become deadly political rivals.Years later Jeanne is happily married to the dashing but politically inept Antoine de Bourbon, whilst the widowed Catherine continues to be loved by few and feared by many – including her children. But she is now the powerful mother of kings, who will do anything to see her beloved second son, Henry, rule France. As civil war ravages the country and Jeanne fights for the Huguenot cause, Catherine advances along her unholy road, making enemies at every turn…

Author Jean Plaidy has been a long time favourite author of mine. The Italian Woman is the second novel in a trilogy about Catherine de’Medici and her nemesis, Queen Jeanne of Navarre. The first book in the series is titled Madame Serpent and the third book in the series is Queen Jezebel. I recommend reading the books in order to get the most from the stories and characters.

                                 Catherine de Medici                   Jeanne de Navarre

Both Catherine and Jeane are strong-willed, outspoken, intelligent, and dynamic. Since childhood, the paths of these stalwart women continually cross, forcing them to encounter each other in political and social occasions. While Catherine was unpopular, Jeanne was well liked despite her tendency to be unyielding and stubborn. This brings plenty of conflict into the story – Catholic vs Protestant, marital successes vs marital failures, deviousness vs straightforwardness, and much more. Despite their differences, they were similar in their love for their children, their ambitions, and their passion for France. Their rivalry intensifies with each page until their enmity becomes unmanageable.

Now a widow, Catherine begins to take vengeance on her husband’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, after years of humiliation. Although her eldest son is now king, she desires to see Henry, her favourite child and will do all that she can to put him there. As dowager queen and regent for her son, she can wield power over Jeanne. Jeanne, princess of France, is Catherine’s late husband’s cousin.  Jeanne is a staunch Huguenot Protestant while Catherine is devoutly Catholic. In the political arena, this places them at odds with Protestant England and Catholic Spain, bringing great tension and historical detail into the story.

Jean Plaidy is one of the great historical fiction authors of our time. Her books have been favourites and bestsellers for decades. She has a knack for taking complex stories and tell them in an easy, exciting way. Catherine de Medici is depicted as a no-nonsense, hard-headed, conniving woman who must survive in a court fraught with intrigue, danger, and deadly political ambitions. Sometimes, the author fell into the trap of “telling” too much instead of bringing the story to life through action, but wonderful descriptions, historical details that enrich, and compelling characters bring to life this fascinating time in history and the two women who struggled to survive within its confines.

From History and Women


Daphne said...

These were the first Plaidy books that I read and I enjoyed them very much. I've read several of her novels and think they vary greatly in quality, but overall they are great introductions to different time periods in history.

Mirella said...

I've read lots of Jean Plaidy / Victoria Holt, but never about Catherine de Medici. I love this author too. Such a lovely writer.