Saturday, March 18, 2017

Historical Fiction Annotation

Queen Margot 

by Alexandre Dumas

Miramax Books (1994)
originally published in 1845
ISBN: 978-0786880829
Available formats:  Hardcover, Paperback


Queen Margot is a sweeping historical novel of political intrigue in the palaces of France during religious wars of the mid-16th century.  It’s based on real people and the real events of the time, climaxing with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the protestant Huguenots.  Margot (Marguerite de Valois) is a Catholic who is being forced to marry the protestant King Henri of Navarre in order to try to bring peace to the various factions.  Margot and Henri forge a friendship and alliance, and in true French fashion, agree to pursue their own romantic liaisons after the wedding, as long as they’re discreet.  Margot is passionate and desperately in love with La Molé, a French soldier and a protestant Huguenot, and ends up trying to navigate the treachery of her own mother, Catherine de Medici, while keeping her lover safe.  Queen Margot is an opulent and adventurous novel of French royalty, traitors, lovers, alliances, and passion, against a backdrop of social upheaval leading up to the French religious civil war.

This is a classic book, originally published in French in 1845 as La Reine Margot. and has since been translated into multiple languages.  

Characteristics of Historical Fiction in this Book

Story:  This story has lots of royal court intrigue and the fabulous, dramatic, romances for which the French are famous.  Secrets, assassinations, greed, power, lust, love, and political manipulation are the main themes.  "In other Historical novels, characters take center stage, and the lives of the protagonists are more important than individual events...Although historical details frame these novels, the narrative emphasizes the characters and their stories within these times."  (Saricks, 2009, p. 295)  This is the case in this novel, which focuses on Margot, Henri, La Molé, and Catherine and their various schemes and personal motivations, against the violent social upheaval of the times.  

Pacing:  This is a fast-paced narrative, with lots of action.  There are some pauses for descriptive paragraphs with fancy French names, which may slow some readers down, but only for a moment and the action picks right back up.  The characters are constantly on the brink of either disaster or success, and the reader is caught up in the race.  Immediacy, as described by Saricks (RA Guide to Genre Fiction, p. 297) is a good term for the pace of this book.  

Setting:  The story is set in 16th century France, during a very turbulent time in history, among the royalty and high court.  This world is sweepingly wealthy, privileged, and formal with rigid behavioral norms which transport the reader. 

Tone:  The tone of this book is adventurous and suspenseful as danger is ever-present, but also moody and dramatic since Margot is desperate, lonely, passionate, and anxious.  Heavy, epic, orchestra music would be the perfect companion to this novel.

Style:  Because the story was written in the 1800's, and originally in French, the writing is vivid, old-fashioned, and comparatively formal.  Dumas is known for his rich descriptions and this is true here as well, with complex and beautiful sentences:  "A farce, Réné, a farce!  I know not why but everyone is seeking to deceive me.  My daughter Marguerite is leagued against me; perhaps she, too, is looking forward to the death of her brothers; perhaps she, too, hopes to be Queen of France."  Note that the writing structure and vocabulary are advanced and may be a challenge for some readers.  

Characterization:  "Actual historical figures need to act in ways that are consistent with known facts... and act in ways that could have actually happened." (Saricks, 2009, p. 296)  In this case, Dumas plays with the characters, inventing personalities, quirks, and motivations, but they do stay generally consistent with historical facts, marriages and known alliances or major actions.  This works because personal, intimate details about these people are mostly unknown to history and Dumas keeps his versions of them believable and true-to-time/place.  They're a little bit stereotypical and caricatured, but that helps to keep them light and fun, rather than deeply complex which would end up dragging the story.

Appeal terms:  dramatic, adventurous, passionate, suspenseful, vividly historical, fast-paced, lush writing, complex plot and structure

Personal Note

I read this book mostly because my daughter read it first and recommended it.  Word-of-mouth is, of course, the best readers' advisory ever.  I found it lush, intriguing, and full of wonderfully deceitful characters.  It was so rich and detailed that I could picture everything perfectly.  I couldn't really relate to the characters since I'm not the kind of person that could just go around having lovers and affairs and secrets and doing all that manuevering - I'm way too straightforward, so I would've lost my head, literally, very quickly.  My favorite aspect of the book was the historical background since my ancestors came from this very time period, fleeing eventually to the fledgling New World colonies, changing their name from the French "Bruneau" to "Bronaugh" which was my great-grandparent's name. Reading about the Huguenots this way made my family history much more alive for me.


The story was made into a French film in 1994
and then re-made in an English version.
Portrait of Marguerite de Valois
 by Francois Clouet (1515-1572)
courtesy Getty Images


  • The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are by the same author and written in similar style with similar settings.
  • The Huguenots is a non-fiction account of the same events depicted in Queen Margot so some readers may be intrigued and want to read more about the real history.
  • The Vatican Princess is also lush, historical, and full of intrigue and courtly deception.
  • The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is fun to read since it turns the story on its head with the point of view of the villainess.
  • Medicis Daughter is a re-telling of a younger Margot giving us another view of the same character.

The photo links below will take you to the Evergreen Indiana library catalog so you can borrow and read these great books, except for The Huguenots which will take you to Goodreads.

Saricks, J. G. (2009). The readers' advisory guide to genre fiction. Chicago: American Library Association.


  1. Deidre, this is a terrific annotation. I really enjoyed your personal note and included that word of mouth is the best king of readers advisory. I know at my own job, I have a lot of patrons who tell me their friend of family recommended a title. What a great way to get a sense of your own family history by reading about the Huguenots.

    1. Anne, I think that's sort of the key of what RA is. Family friend's know us and so they know what kinds of things we'll like; an RA interview is our attempt to get to know you in this super short timeframe within a limited scope.

  2. Deirdre, awesome job! This book sounds like I'd get beheaded as well if I were in this story! I waver back and forth on if I would be into it or not as I typically end up getting bored/frustrated with characters that have a ton of affairs, however your description of the pace and characterization makes me want to reconsider.

    1. It's really kind of fun to read the old-fashioned language - makes you feel like you're in the French Court yourself. You can almost taste the backbiting and spying, and you'll be in the mood to run out and buy one of those fancy dresses with the low decolletage.

  3. Fantastic job with your annotation! You did a good job on the summary and really fleshed out the pros and "cons" of this book (hard language). Good job referencing back to Saricks and including a personal note as well. Full points!