Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Sunday, October 11, 2015

An Historical Winner

Marguerite de Valois is one of history's shadowy figures who truly deserves to be brought into the light and given a voice of her own. In Sophie Perinot's new historical novel, we discover a young woman with a backbone as strong as her formidable mother's, and an ability to matter in a way females often couldn't during the 1500s.

Starting from her late childhood, we are introduced to Marguerite as she watches her mother, Catherine de Medicis, and her older brother, Charles, rule Catholic France with an iron hand. Marguerite dreams of the day she will be able to join Court and fulfill her destiny to marry well, and when she is twelve, she is finally given the opportunity. Quickly making lifelong friends with two young women, and basking in the adoration of both her brother the king and her brother, the Duc de Anjou, Margot is the center of attention for everyone except her mother. Her eye falls on the young Duc de Lorraine and the two scheme ways to be together until everything comes crashing down and Margot finds herself back on the fringes of her family, forced to do their bidding and marry where they say.

Perinot has done her research and it shows in her grasp of characters and events. Marguerite is no shy, retiring flower, despite her lack of acknowledgement by other authors; she continually is shown to know her own mind and manipulate events as best she can in a time when most women weren't thought capable of such. Among the flamboyant figures of the day, Margot was able carry on a love affair and save her husband's life, despite her mother's machinations. Not that everything she did was perfect or even heroic; Perinot captures the desperation of a young girl's determination during a tumultuous period of her life and also in France's history.

Be prepared as you go in to understand that the role of religion not only shaped Margot but all of life, and that the de Valois family had their own personal demons to wrestle. At least one of Perinot's interpretations of what happened among the family may raise some eyebrows, but as addressed in the author's notes, it makes sense. Also, this is not really a young adult novel, even though most of the novel finds Margot in her teens. In the 1500s, many people were married in their early teens, and few were naive about relationships. Margot, while sheltered to some degree, soon finds her own sexuality, as do most of the cast of characters. The subject matter, however, is more about the historical context and Margot's place in it than it is about prurient interests. In that, Perinot excels. I could picture scenes and situations perfectly through her exquisite writing, and I'm very hopeful we have not heard the last of Marguerite from Perinot. Bump this one up to the top of your To Read Next pile. It's an absorbing winner.


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