Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by CW Gortner **includes giveaway**

The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.

So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.

 The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband’s lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons. She allies herself with the enigmatic Protestant leader Coligny, with whom she shares an intimate secret, and implacably carves a path toward peace, unaware that her own dark fate looms beforeher—a fate that, if she is to save France, will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, her reputation, and the passion of her embattled heart.

From the fairy-tale châteaux of the Loire Valley to the battlefields of the wars of religion to the mob-filled streets of Paris, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the extraordinary untold journey of one of the most maligned and misunderstood women ever to be queen.

There are certain figures from history whose lasting legacy seems to be a bad reputation in some way, usually deservedly so. If a novelist chooses to write about them it can be difficult for them to walk the fine line between writing the history or trying to rehabilitate their reputation or to be apologist.

CW Gortner has chosen to write about Catherine de Medici, a woman known through history as a someone who would do whatever she could to maintain her grip on power, including meddling in the dark arts, poisoning her enemies, inciting religious disharmony and so much more. In doing so, he tries to bring a balance to the stories we think we know about Catherine and presents her as a wife and mother trying to do everything she can to maintain her family's grip on power, a stranger in a foreign land, a woman whose husband loves another. For the most part, Gortner manages to tell this woman's story without straying too far into sentimentality or being too apologetic.

Catherine is a member of the de Medici family, but they are no longer the all powerful family they once were. Spirited away from a dangerous situation at home, Catherine is married off to a French Prince - Henri. He is however destined to become King Henri II.  This Catherine is innocent, full of hope that she may find love and fulfilment within her marriage, but she is also determined and after all a Medici. Packed in her trousseau - a vial of poison. Her husband has, however, already given his love to another - the beautiful and powerful Diane de Poitiers, and the French Court does not like the young Catherine. Not only is she lonely in her marriage, but she is dealing with new customs she must learn to fit in in the French Court, but even if she does she will always be seen as an outsider.

Diane is not content with taking Catherine's husband's affections, she also wants to usurp her role at court, to find a place in Catherine's children affection, and her house! I remember reading years ago that Diane de Poitiers was a forebear of Princess Diana. If ever there was another case of 'there were three people in this marriage' then this would be it!
As Catherine's hopes of happiness fade, she eventually finds power the one way that she can - through her children, but even then there are obstacles. Widowed at 40, she becomes regent for her sons, and finds herself part of a struggle for power between the de Guise family and the ruling family, and so she must make the hard decisions to protect her children's legacy. At the same time, there is religious upheaval and rebellion.

The narrator is Catherine herself, looking back over her life from the relative distance of old age. She shares with us her hopes and dreams, her loves,  her disappointments, the meetings with influential people of the age including Nostradamus, and yes, her regrets.

Whilst this wasn't quite a warts and all look at the life of Catherine de Medici, the author certainly didn't gloss over the terrible consequences of the decisions that were made, whether they were the intended consequences or not.

As much as I liked CW Gortners previous book The Last Queen, this was a step up. Now I am eager to read his next book on Isabel of Castile. I am expecting a very readable and enjoyable look at another fascinating female character from history.

Rating 4.5/5

This review is part of the blog tour for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici being run by Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours. You can follow the blog tour by visiting the tour schedule here.


Thanks to HF Virtual Blog Tours and  CW Gortner we have a copy of the newly released paperback of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici to giveaway.

- open to US residents
- leave a comment and don't forget your email address
- the contest closes May 31 June 9 at midnight GMT


  1. Thanks for the review and giveaway! I just read The Massacre at Paris by Christopher Marlowe for my AP European History class, and I'd love to get to learn more about Catherine.

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  2. I've heard some nice things about this book and author and would love to try the book. Thank you for including me in your giveaway.
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  3. Thank you for the giveaway. I have been interested in reading more historical fiction set in France and this sounds like a great read.


  4. Sounds a gorgeous read though do not count me in as I am overseas.

  5. Fascinating review! I would love to read this book. Thanks for offering the giveaway opportunity.

  6. this looks so interesting !! thanks for the giveaway !!


  7. I would love to learn more about Catherine de Medici. Reading C.W. Gortner's version is a great way to start. This novel sounds so fascinating. Thanks for a chance to win a copy.


  8. Catherine de Medici sounds so ruthless and interesting!! Would love to win this book

  9. Would love to win/read this book. Thanks for the giveaway.


  10. I don't know anything about this woman other than her name. I'd love to read it! I write historic fiction as well so I'm a fan of this genre.
    thanks for the giveaway!

  11. Would love to read this story. Love historical fiction.
    Thnx for the great giveaway!!

    ctymice at gmail dot com

  12. Thanks for the giveaway. I loved C.W. Gortner's first novel, The Last Queen, and I would love to read his take on Catherine de Medici.


  13. Thank you for hosting me on my tour, always a pleasure to visit. Best of luck to everyone with the giveaway!

  14. Humm, new historical writer for me. Off to check out the other books by this author.

    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  15. This sounds like a great story. I'm currently reading "The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherin de Medici" and would love to read more about her.

    Thanks for offering this in a give away!

    Kat @ readingwithpassion@gmail.com

  16. I can't wait to read this!!!! Thanks for the giveaway chance!


  17. I would love to read this book!
    minoubazaar AT gmail.com

  18. I watched a PBS documentary series about the Medici dynasty but they never got to Catherine and her life after marriage. Thank you so much for the review and for the giveaway, the book is going on my to-read list! olenkaibj [at] gmail.com

  19. Years ago I read a sort of ~memoir for Diane, and of course in that one Catherine was the evil one! Hehe.


  20. Don't include me in the give-away, as I've already read this one. Just wanted to say I enjoyed the book and came away learning a lot about Catherine and a period of history that was new to me.

  21. I really enjoyed Gortner's book on Juana of Castille, although I believe that's the only book of his I've read. With that said I'd still love to read more of what he's written.


  22. Great review, looking forward to reading more of Chris`s books. Loved The Tudor Secret!!! Can`t wait to read this one.

    ctymice at gmail dot com

  23. Please enter me.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. I finally found somewhere to get my historical fiction fix! Thanks for the giveaway!