First line: In my dreams the birds are always black.
Review: The extent of my knowledge about Marguerite of Valois begins and ends with the sumptuous 1994 film starring Isabelle Adjani, but the drama of her marriage and the days following have stuck in my mind for more than a decade. I've been dying to get my hands on this book since learning of it, as I enjoyed Perinot's debut and was eager for her take on the infamous French royal and her notorious family.
I was rewarded with a stellar read, a top ten for 2015, and I have no doubt I'll be haunted by this one for a long while.
Opening in 1562, a decade before her marriage, the novel is narrated by Marguerite. A smart young woman who craves the love of her mother -- Catherine de Médicis -- Marguerite is powerless against her conniving, mercurial family. Her brothers love her, but their affection comes with an enormous price tag. Marguerite wrestles for what small power she can, among which is a love affair at a time when surrounded by very few who truly loved her for her. But that, like so much else, costs her, too, and the heartache, cruelty, and betrayal Marguerite experiences is presented in plain, unvarnished light.
As with her previous novel, Perinot doesn't smooth over the rougher aspects of life for women in this historical era nor does she tone down the drama of the Valois family: there's enough soap opera-y drama to make this fun, but everything is anchored by Marguerite's voice and character. She's a different woman at the end of the book than at the beginning, and her development felt authentic and real. Surrounded by some over-the-top personalities (like her mother, ohmygod, her mother!), Marguerite manages to hold her own despite her powerlessness and it makes her choices following her marriage even more staggering and stunning.
This novel has one of the most deliciously satisfying closes I've read in very long time. Although I yearned for more of Margot's years, the precise moment Perinot chose to end the book with had me both cackling with triumphant delight and sighing a small, teary sigh.