I have never read a book about Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de Medici before this one. She has been mentioned in other novels that I have read before, generally as the cruel Catherine de Medici of France, ruthless and evil, but this was my first novel that was all about Catherine and actually looked into the life that made her the way she was and examined the idea if she truly was evil.
One of the things that I loved was the sheer opulence and elegance of the worlds that Caterina inhabited as a little girl and young woman. After the fall of the de Medicis, the abandonment by her cousins and fellow heirs, and the death of her dear, strong aunt, the see-saw between suffering and safety was deeply heart-wrenching in its alternating joy in security and abject poverty and filth that Caterina was subjected to. I also enjoyed Caterina’s regal bearing throughout everything; no matter what happened, she always managed herself well in public, only succumbing to emotion in private but displaying such emotion so well as to break your very soul.
Throughout the entire story there are a few constant threads, one of them being the magician Cosimo Ruggeri. When Caterina, at the tender age of 8, first meets him, she describes him as as “a tall, skinny youth of eighteen, if one estimated generously, yet he wore the grey tunic and somber attitude of a city elder. His pitted skin was sickly white, his hair so black it gleamed blue; he brushed it straight back to reveal a sharp widow’s peak. His eyes seemed even blacker and held something old and shrewd, something that fascinated and frightened me. He was ugly: His long nose was crooked, his lips uneven, his ears too large. Yet I did not want to look away. I stared, a rude, stupid child. (page 19)” He shares in Caterina’s dreams of the future, assuring her that she is not mad but that there is indeed something to be feared and avoided in her future.
A novel of 468 pages, we follow Caterina from her childhood in Florence to her state as Dowager Queen Catherine of France. It is an imposing undertaking, the fictionalization of a historical figure’s entire lifetime, but Kalogridis performs it beautifully! Her descriptions of Florence, Rome, Paris, of the glittering courts and courtiers, the clothing, the decor, the palaces. Everything is beautifully described, so much so that you want to live in that time. You want to attend the parties, curtsy and bow before the King and Queen, to live in that glittering cage and ignore the truth that it is, in fact, a cage.
A wonderful work and I am very much looking forward to reading Kalogridis’s A Borgia Bride to see how she deals with the equally infamous Lucrezia Borgia.