Who was Catherine de Medici? Was she the evil queen responsible for France's St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre? Was she the powerful figure portrayed in history, or was she a wife and mother scheming to keep her husband alive, and her children on the throne? Jeanne Kalogridis tends to the latter viewpoint in The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici.
Catherine de Medici tells her own story, beginning with the aging queen calling for Nostradamus to cast charts for her children. That opening introduces the woman who was a skilled astrologer in her own right, believing in the star charts, and the influence of birth dates and the stars on destiny. As an orphaned child, living in her aunt's household in Florence, Italy, she was visited by Cosimo Ruggieri, the astrologer who linked their fate together, and predicted she would not rule Florence as its heir, but, would instead be a powerful queen. Yanked from her home, imprisoned by rebels, used as a pawn between the Pope and the King of France, she clung to her astrology as her guide in life.
Jeanne Kalogridis' Catherine de Medici is a character in between. She seems captured by her stars, but she never seems to grow to be as powerful as the historical figure was. It's natural to feel sorry for her in her captive youth, but she never seems to grow from the pitiful figure, going from captive of the Florence rebels, to pawn, to begging her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to allow her to have sex with her husband in order to preserve the dynasty. Through her entire life, she continues to rely on her astrology, and astrologers to predict her fate. Catherine de Medici appears to be a woman at the mercy of her fate, rather than responsible for it. It's wearing to read about a character when she's a figure of pity throughout the book.
The Afterword says, "Catherine de' Medici lived to the venerable age of sixty-nine. She was an assiduous astrologer, a mathematical prodigy, and - according to many French historians - the most intelligent individual ever to sit on France's throne." Unfortunately, from childhood through the end of the book, she remained a character acting on fear and fate. It might have been more interesting to actually read about a powerful figure, a woman who would come across more as The Devil's Queen.
Jeanne Kalogridis' website is www.jeannekalogridis.com.
The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis. St. Martin's, ©2009. ISBN 9780312368432 (hardcover), 480p.