Spanning the later years of Catherine de’ Medici, this third in Plaidy’s trilogy covers the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, its repercussions and the reign of the two remaining Valois kings: mad King Charles IX and the ineffectual Henry III. Written from the viewpoint of several different characters, this novel offers a panoramic view of France during religious revolt, warring between the many court factions, and the waning of the infamous Queen Mother’s power.
The beautiful, fiery Princess Margot, who is in love with the Duke of Guise, is instead married to the Huguenot King of Navarre. Ostensibly this was a step toward making peace between the Catholics and the Huguenots, though, as Navarre was next in line to the throne, it was the Queen Mother’s way of ensuring her position in the event her of weakly sons’ early demise. Though Margot and her new husband clash religiously and romantically, they decide it is in their best interests to ally themselves politically.
Through Charles IX’s unstable reign, and Henry III’s disastrous one, Catherine finds her grip on power lessening and the threats to her sons rising. The Duke of Guise, called the King of Paris by the people, forms the Catholic League, making his attempt on the throne and beginning the War of the Three Henrys—Henry of Valois, Henry of Guise, and Henry of Navarre. Catherine de’ Medici, seemingly a weak, old woman in the background, is in fact intriguing for her own best interests.
Plaidy, as usual, deftly interweaves facts with superb storytelling, linking the smallest details with major events of the era. The dialog between Margot and Navarre is laugh-out-loud funny, while Catherine de’ Medici is still chillingly evil. Though the ending of a trilogy, this novel reads well enough as a stand-alone.