Love, duty, war. Princess Maurguerite de Valois finds herself in the middle of all three in this historical fiction novel by Sophie Perinot. As she grows up in her mother’s court, Margot (as she is often called), must navigate the treacherous, sinister world where nothing is as it appears. It is, in a way, a coming-of-age story about a young woman who learns to make her own choices—despite the consequences.
In efforts to win her mother’s (Catherine de Médicis) favor, Margot willingly becomes a political pawn by way of marriage. This is, however, before she falls in love with the charming Duc de Guise, and afterwards, it is a war of the heart. While Margot is eventually betrothed to her cousin, Huguenot Henri de Navarre, Perinot uses this tug-of-war to raise the question, “what would you do for love?”, and “what would you do out of duty?” It is never so simple, it seems, as Margot makes some surprising—and surprisingly daring—decisions.
Perinot also puts the fraught, teetering mother-daughter relationship on display. Often done away with for being a daughter, Margot flits from being accepted and, perhaps, warmly regarded (as much as Madame la Serpente could be warm) to being despised and distrusted. Catherine de Médicis’ favor acts as a central, unstable, ever cruel measurement of her daughter’s self-esteem, and the reader is asked to question how cruel love can and should be.
It is Margot’s courage in the throws of violence to defy everything she once held sacred that truly marks her coming-of-age as she claims her agency and her voice. We are often afraid to take what is rightfully ours, but are surprised when we are bold enough to own it. Love is a wildly powerful thing and not always benevolent. Love is manipulative and conditional, a tool to Catherine de Médici. To Margot, it her one chance to be valued for who she is, not for what she offers.
As the two women and others wrestle with love and war, it becomes clear that the most important thing is love of self. The dependence on others to provide love only hampers, but to see ourselves is to take ownership of who we are. This is what gives Margot the courage to take back her life and, ultimately, perhaps, alter the course of history.