The Reluctant Queen

Written by Freda Lightfoot

In 1578, Henry, King of Navarre, is reunited with his bride, Queen Margot, daughter of Catherine de Medici. Their political marriage, marked by open infidelity on both sides, is the backdrop to this novel, which after some meandering comes to center around Henry’s relationship with his mistress Gabrielle d’Estreés.

Set in a France teeming with religious tensions, political intrigue, and sexual liaisons, this novel has a wide cast of characters and spans over twenty years. Such material had great promise—and yet this book never took off for me. Early on in The Reluctant Queen, Margot is described as having a “slender, swanlike neck,” and although the prose had some bright spots, they were outweighed by hackneyed phrases such as this (in the course of a single page, two different women are described as being entrancingly beautiful). There was a great deal of telling instead of showing, and I felt no interest in or liking for any of the characters, whose appearances are described in great detail but who are lacking in depth. Even the occasional murder failed to bring this novel to life.