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Madame Serpent by Jean Plaidy
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Madame Serpent (1951)

by Jean Plaidy

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This one is about Catherine de Medici. It starts when she is a little girl in Italy, and follows her through the time her husband, King Henry of France, dies. Catherine is in love with her husband, but has to suffer the humiliation of Henry preferring a woman much older, and merely tolerating his loving wife. Catherine has learned throughout her life how to hide her feelings and do her best to sway situations to her advantage. No one realizes how very clever she really is…

I didn’t know anything about Catherine before reading this book, so of course, now I must go find something nonfiction, so I can find out what is true and what isn’t. It took me a little bit of time to get into the book, and I almost gave it 3.75 stars because of that, but in the end I decided I liked it enough to give it the full 4 stars. This was my first Plaidy book, but it won’t be my last. Not only that, Madame Serpent is the first in the trilogy about Catherine, and I do plan to read the others. ( )
  LibraryCin | Nov 26, 2017 |
This is an interesting character in French royal history and there are some well-written accounts of her. This is not one of them. Very tedious. ( )
  killerX | Jan 8, 2016 |
All I knew of Catherine de Medici before reading this fictionalised account of her life was that she was a “bad” woman. I expected to dislike her character throughout this book, but despite a few “evil intentions”, I found myself on her side and making excuses for her whenever she went too far with anything.

This novel covers her time from the age of six through to thirty-nine. I had previously read an account of her after this period in a non-fiction work, namely a biography on Henry IV of France. In the bio she struck me as a nasty piece of work, whereas in this fiction-based-on-fact tale, she comes across as a more sympathetic character.

The author shows Catherine as an unloved person who’s treated badly or neglected by those who should care for her right from childhood. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, despite her occasional venomous deed or devious plan.

She also comes across as slightly barmy, which again evoked my sympathy, not mockery. She wastes much of her life by waiting for opportunities rather than accepting things as they are and looking for fulfilment elsewhere – I can’t be too specific here in case I gave anything away to anyone considering reading this book.

The plot is simple with little in the way of variation because of Catherine’s one-track way of thinking. This may be why many reviewers have given the novel average or poor ratings. It’s very much a character-driven tale, so if you don’t have patience for Catherine, chances are you won’t care for the story.

I always prefer books that are more focused on character interaction rather than complex plots full of twists and turn. I also prefer lots of dialogue and minimal descriptive passages. These are the reasons why this tome has appealed to me so much. I was engaged from the opening chapter and never grew bored.

A superb read. ( )
  PhilSyphe | May 11, 2015 |
Catherine de' Medici is only fourteen years old when her great-uncle, the Pope of Rome, decides that she is to be married to the son of King Francis I . As Catherine travels to France to cement the alliance between Rome and the French king, she leaves her childhood sweetheart back in Florence. Although Catherine is initially nonplussed about Prince Henry, but as time passes her broken heart is glued together with a new, burning passion for her husband. Sadly, her love is not reciprocated, for Henry has long been in love with the Diane de Poitiers, a woman nearly twice Catherine's age. As the years roll by, Catherine's frustration over her husband's disinterest drives her to spy on him and Diane. She gains a reputation at court as a quiet little mouse with no particular intelligence, but behind the scenes Catherine works to punish her rival for Henry's affection and finally win the desire and devotion of her husband.

Jean Plaidy was a popular author in her day (this title was first published in 1952), and many of today's historical fiction writers – including Michelle Moran and C. W. Gortner – mention her as a strong influence on their own work. But reading Madame Serpent, the first in a trilogy about Catherine de' Medici, I was struck by how different her writing is from her modern counterparts. She spends a lot of time telling the reader about events at court, rather than showing it through the eyes of the characters. There's a...detachment to her writing, an almost clinical handling of the characters that holds them at arm's length. Thus, I never really feel the burning of Catherine de' Medici's desire for her husband, although I'm told she's being driven nearly mad over him. There is no intimacy.

I know that some people prefer this style of storytelling, because it is less likely to cross or contradict the historical record. In truth, sometimes I vastly prefer it to the overwrought, emotional soap opera romances that seem to be churned out by the dozens lately. But in this particular case, the distance between the reader and the character bothered me. Catherine de' Medici is a polarizing, controversial figure, so I want to understand her. I want to know how she makes her decisions and how she feels. She spends much of the book wearing a 'mask' and living a double life – dutiful, dull wife by day and spy and Machiavellian plotter by night. But she never really came to life, and never fully engaged my interest.

I know that there are many other books out there in which Catherine is either the star or a major player, so I'm hard-pressed to recommend this book when I'm nearly certain that there must be a more captivating and entertaining version of her life out there. ( )
  makaiju | Sep 15, 2012 |
This is the first of three novels about Catherine de'Medici and her family. This one covers her childhood in Italy and her marriage to Henry II of France. The majority of the story covers life, love and intrigue at the French royal court in the 16th century. It is really enjoyable and easy to read, Catherine is neglected by her husband who favours his mistress and Catherine is frequently humiliated by his actions. History has painted Catherine de'Medici as a witch and a sorceress although this fictional account portrays her more as a woman desperately in love with her husband and willing to resort to any means to have him away from his mistress. I'll be reserving the follow-up to this next time I'm in the library. ( )
  cathymoore | Aug 15, 2010 |
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At Amboise the French was en fete.
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As a 14 year old, Catherine de Medici rode into France. Behind her and before her rode the nobility of Italy. She was to marry Henry of Orleans, second son of the King.
Amid the glittering fetes, masques, jousts and banquets of the immoral court in 16th century Europe, the reluctant bride became a passionate but unwanted wife.
Angry, humiliated and tortured by jealousy as she secretly spied on Henry's lovemaking, Catherine began to plan her revenge...
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At 14, Catherine de Medici becomes the reluctant bride of Henry of Orleans and is portrayed from her innocent early years to her distrustful later years.

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