Catherine de Medici is a child of the infamous Medici family, rulers of Florence. After rebels topple the family, Catherine is forced into captivity. Even though Catherine is eventually rescued, her life will never be the same. As a daughter of the Medici family and niece to the Pope, Catherine is forced to become a political pawn in her family's schemes. She is sent to France to marry the unwilling Prince Henri. In France, Catherine continues her odd childhood fascination with astrology and gets pulled into the intrigue at the French court. When, by a twist of fate, Catherine becomes Queen of France, she will do anything to protect her children and the crown… anything.
The Devil's Queen is definitely not for children. It includes graphic depictions of sex and violence. The sex, in particular, is highly graphic and included primarily to give the novel a romance edge. While there is some aspect of romance in this novel, it's a fairly minor subplot, most likely included to draw in more readers.
The biggest centerpiece of this novel is the discussion of Catherine de Medici's involvement in witchcraft and astrology. While it seems like the market is being flooded with historical novels about witchcraft, Jeanne Kalogridis approaches the topic in a seemingly fresh manner, filled with vivid (and sometimes gruesome) depictions of rituals and well-researched information about the superstitions Catherine de Medici believed.
While The Devil's Queen was entertaining and kept me reading, it felt like it was a little lacking. First, while Catherine felt like a realistic woman with real emotions and reactions, I just wasn't completely pulled in by her. In fact, I was most interested in the story when Kalogridis talked about Catherine's witchcraft than any other part of the novel. Catherine does become more compelling as the story goes on, but for most of time I simply didn't find Catherine all that fascinating. I just wasn't entirely pulled into her story or her character – I didn't quite feel her emotions or become engrossed in her life. I actually thought that many of the secondary characters were more interesting than Catherine. Kalogridis did an amazing job of creating complex, dynamic secondary characters, but at the expense of pushing the main character out of the reader's focus.
I also felt like at times the Catherine de Medici that I read about in The Devil's Queen was hardly the same Catherine de Medici that I've heard about before or was alluded to in the book's marketing material. The Catherine in The Devil's Queen wasn't quite as deadly or as "evil" as I expected her to be (or even, at times, as much as she thought she was). For example, when her husband, King Henri, carried on a long affair with another woman, Catherine silently accepted it and did nothing to exert her power — even after King Henri ended the affair, the mistress was able to keep a great deal of power and influence — and Catherine did nothing. Thankfully, Catherine comes out of her shell after the death of her husband and takes on a stronger role as France descends further into war. While this is the strongest area of the novel, it takes far too long to get to. Once the reader gets there, the story is over before Catherine, and The Devil's Queen, can reach its full potential.
The Devil's Queen isn't a bad novel. It's very well-researched and written in a clear voice that's easy to understand and enjoyable to follow. However, the text is uneven – ranging from edge-of-your-seat intrigue to painfully boring (and seemingly unnecessary ) sections that should have been edited. The plot also becomes muddled at times with little discernible direction. This one is great for historical fiction and historical romance fans and for readers interested in medieval witchcraft. The story points to a future of potentially phenomenal novels, but Kalogridis just isn't there yet.