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The Italian Woman
by Jean Plaidy

Book Two in the Catherine de’ Medici trilogy. It is the sequel to Madame Serpent.

Queen Catherine returns this time, her story intertwined with that of her sister-in-law, Queen Jeanne of Navarre. Both queens are powerful, intelligent, and fierce in their desire to promote their children – but in every other way, they are opposites. Catherine is the Catholic queen; Jeanne is a Protestant promoting the Huguenot cause. Jeanne once dreamed of marrying Catherine’s now-deceased husband. As political tension rises and France is engulfed in civil war, Catherine de’ Medici sinks to new lows in order to keep herself in power and her children as her puppets on the throne.

Catherine de’ Medici was pitiable in Madame Serpent, for she is an unwanted bride mocked and scorned by the entire French court. Unfortunately, any sympathy I had for her rapidly dried up in The Italian Woman because she is so utterly amoral and cruel. Catherine resorts to poisoning her rivals and cruelly manipulating her children’s emotions. Her sneaky, spying habits grow worse – instead of peeping at her husband as he visits his mistress, she now disguises herself to listen to gossip in the streets of Paris. Plaidy writes her as a terrible, unpleasant person.

I honestly didn’t find Jeanne of Navarre much more interesting. Although she is incapable of the sheer horrors Catherine inflicts, Jeanne always remains stubborn and distant. I attribute this less to the historical person as to the way Plaidy writes. Most fiction writers today follow that maxim, “Show, don’t tell” – but when Plaidy was writing, this may not have been such a strict rule because she tells the reader everything. We know what Jeanne is like because we’re told so in the narrative rather than having her personality naturally revealed through speech or action. It’s not just her – nearly every character is revealed in this way. When I found the book impossible to put down, it was not because the storytelling was so entrancing, but rather because the events and the politics were so convoluted and twisted.

Jean Plaidy has such a high reputation that even this book has not completely discouraged me from looking at more of her work – but I think after I finish this trilogy, I’ll focus on one of her Tudor novels, for I’ve heard that they are her best work.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Italian Woman, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Little Book by Seldon Edwards
2011: Mermaid: A Twist on a Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: When the Morning Comes by Cindy Woodsmall


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