The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici

Written by Jeanne Kalogridis
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Catherine de Medici is perhaps one of the most maligned women in history. It appears, however, in Kalogridis’s deft interpretation of Catherine’s life, she was more sinned against than sinning, a political pawn in Machiavellian times. She lived much of her young childhood either a prisoner of Florentine rebels or the patsy for her manipulative family.

Much is known and written about Catherine’s attraction to and reliance on the black arts and astrology. Her confidant and astrologer, Cosimo Ruggieri, appears to have played a major role not merely in her surviving the overthrow of the Medicis, but in having shaped her major life decisions by use of talismans and much worse. Without ruining the story, suffice it to say that Catherine’s desire for children was so powerful that she was willing to do anything to make that happen – anything.

Kalogridis paints Catherine as a brilliant, tenacious and single-minded woman who is often able to manipulate those around her to do her bidding. What Catherine often fails to see is impending betrayal. We empathize with Catherine’s ability to give her love, but there are occasions where Catherine is a tough pill to swallow.

So, too, are some of what seem to be gratuitously gruesome scenes in the novel. Without going into specifics, and giving Kalogridis the benefit of the doubt in grafting those scenes onto the plot, they merely illuminate the inhumane, sickening lack of “people value” that characterizes war and the abuse of power. That having been said, what is admirable is how Catherine stands by her husband, Henri, year after year, tolerating his dalliances, particularly with Diane de Poitiers. She truly loves him and wants to be able to share her life with him.

Kalogridis’s Catherine is a complex, intricately drawn character. Despite the downsides to this book, it is a very good read.