Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: Courtesan by Diane Haeger

"Do you suppose... that just perhaps, if we had met under different circumstances, Madame, that we might one day have become friends?"
"It is not likely that we shall ever know the answer to that, Your Majesty," Diane said. "But had things been different, I know I should have liked that very much."
 -Courtesan, by Diane Haeger

Happy Monday (yeah yeah, I know. *guzzles coffee*) and welcome back to Drink Read Love. Today, I'm happy to be reviewing Courtesan, a lovely historical fiction novel by Diane Haeger (who also writes under the name Anne Girard). As is so often the case, I happened upon this book and author through another book and author. In this case, I have Sophie Perinot and her novel Medici's Daughter to thank. During the weeks leading up to the online party for Medici's Daughter, Sophie teased us all by slowly introducing the other historical fiction authors who would be her special guest hosts for the party and some of their books.

One of those was Diane Haeger and Courtesan, her novel about Diane de Poitiers (most well known as the favourite of  King Henri II of France). I recognized the name from watching Reign on Netflix, and - being fascinated at the idea of reading something about Diane rather than Mary Queen of Scots or Catherine de Medici - promptly hopped over to Amazon to pick up an e-book copy on my Kindle. If I'm being totally frank, a lot of that happened while Sophie was introducing her guests. But, I digress. Ahem. Anyways, thus was I introduced to this intriguing book and another talented author.

What if? Had things been different... these are major themes in Courtesan. Courtesan opens with Diane de Poitiers on her way to court on the invitation of King Francis I of France (try saying that three times fast. I just did. May you have better luck.) after 5 years away. Her husband is now dead, leaving her a widow.  Diane, being used to a quiet life on the country estate where she and her now-dead husband lived, is shocked at the atmosphere of lewd behavior and political intrigue she has walked into in King Francis' court, where extra-marital affairs, lies, and scheming to gain power and favor in the eyes of the King are the norm and not the exception. Very quickly, Diane catches the eye and interest of King Francis but this makes her the enemy of the King's favourite, Anne d-Heilly. As Diane struggles to adjust to her new surroundings and figure out how to deal with the venemous Anne's malicious attempts to drive her away, she finds an unexpected ally in Prince Henri, the teenage second son of King Francis.

Prince Henri and Diane build a friendship that deepens to infatuation and eventually a scandalous romance that angers King Henri (none too happy that the woman who turned down a king would instead prefer his much younger son) and the two slowly begin to realize that they have found love with one another. However, as so often happens, life and politics throw unexpected curve balls at Henri and between his politically-expedient and loveless marriage to Catherine de Medici (mandated by King Francis) and the death of his older brother (making Henri unexpectedly the heir to the throne), Prince Henri and Diane must navigate the treacherous waters of love and politics. Eventually, Francis dies and Henri becomes the new King of France, leading to a new set of politics and rules for the couple to navigate as their love deepens and grows, eventually becoming a long-lasting and well-known royal romance.

Ok, so. This book, y'all. This. Book. Oh, my poor emotions. I know I probably sound like a broken record, and I promise eventually I'll find a book/author where I have to give a review that is less than glowing (what can I say? I have good taste) but this is not that day, or book, or author. In Courtesan, Diane Haeger does an absolutely amazing job of telling a story of love and loss, joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache. Haeger manages to capture the complexities of Diane de Poitiers' relationships, of the situation which she, Catherine de Medici, and Prince-turned-King Henri find themselves pushed into. I found myself feeling a myriad of things for all 3 characters, with an especially wide range of emotions for Diane and Catherine, caught in treacherous and swiftly moving currents largely outside of their control.

Overall, I loved this book. Once I started, I couldn't put it down. The circles under my eyes the next day were a testament to how late I stayed up reading it. I find myself feeling a complicated relationship with Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers the more I read about them, but I'll save that for another day, since I think it's enough for it's own blog post. LOL As far as this book, though, I loved how Haeger portrayed them, and it was nice to get such an in depth look into the events that shaped these two women and their lives and relationships. I am definitely reminded that they were a product of their time, and that it's a time I would *not* have been happy in. Once again, I found myself thinking "This is making me so angry!!!!", and then thinking "Wow, Haeger is REALLY talented, she totally brought this to life and made it real and made me FEEL this deeply."Hats off to Diane Haeger for a job well done.

So, what to drink?

With Courtesan, I discovered that the Starbucks Mocha Frappucino bottled coffee went perfectly. The taste was good, and the caffeine was the perfect antidote to how tired I was from reading all night to find out how the book ended (warning: have tissues on hand).

You can find the author online at Facebook, twitter (@annegirard1), and her website