Book Review: Courtesan by Diane Haeger

CourtesanCourtesan by Diane Haeger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To be clear, this is a work of fiction, a romance novel based on a real person, rather than an historical novel. Big Difference. Don't read this one for the history. Diane de Poitiers existed, and she was the mistress of the King of France. Some of the events from her life are represented in the book, and some are fabricated. Diane Haeger has done her research, and the book rings true-ish for the most part. It's the story of the widow Diane, who is called to the court of Francis I, presumably to become a conquest of the king's. She faces the king's advances, the hatred of the official "Favourite", Anne D'Heilly, and the contempt of the king's closest advisors. She is also pursued by a charming but duplicitous courtier. It reads like a 16th century "Mean Girls". Pauvre Diane!

After many trials, Diane falls into an affair with the much younger (20 years) son of the king, Henri, who will become the King of France after the death of his older brother and father. Since he is not allowed to marry his beloved Diane, Henri marries Catherine d'Medici and proceeds to ignore her. Diane convinces him to bed his wife by getting him all stirred up and then refusing him, sending him to his wife's rooms - because of course, men can't control their baser instincts. Diane becomes pregnant by Henri and has a hard birth. The child is named Diane, and presented as a bastard of Henri's by some peasant woman. This leads to some emotional nonsense later in the book.

It's mentioned more than once that Diane didn't refuse Henri *any* of his fantasies, whatever that means, and that they were always having epic sex, even after so many years. Like, maybe the author thinks things have to get kinky so that "love" can endure? That's a little icky.

In "real life", Henri had 10 children by his queen. He also had base-born children by other mistresses. In "Courtesan", his affairs are either not mentioned at all (like the affair that actually produced his daughter Diane de France), or made to seem as though he is almost forced into sleeping with this other woman. There is no doubt he loved Diane and that she was his official mistress until his death, but the attempts of the author to make it seem as though Henri never really strayed are over-contrived.


All in all, it's an entertaining read, but reaches pretty far over historical record to bring the drama. I suppose if you didn't know anything about Diane de Poitiers before reading this novel, you might find it more interesting. I just became bored. Diane comes across as more a victim, a woman to whom things happen, rather than who she really seems to have been - an educated, strong woman who was not afraid to fight for what was hers and go after what she wanted.



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