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In this soap opera rendition of 16th-century power and politics, the ruthless and manipulative wife of France's King Henry II, reviled for her role in the civil and religious wars that roiled France, is conned into a deal with the devil. After her arranged marriage to the future French king, Catherine de Medici dedicates her life to protecting her husband and his reign, bartering away her soul to ensure that she provides heirs. Seasoned historic novelist Kalogridis (The Borgia Bride) nails the palace intrigue and lush pageantry of the Renaissance, but can't get a grip on her heroine's slippery, troubled heart. Catherine confesses to a core of evil, and history certainly supports that view, but Kalogridis suggests that the real trade-off of Catherine's Faustian bargain was to become a royal doormat, swallowing her courage and pride to become a dutiful and ignored wife and mother. For all her passion and attention to detail, however, Kalogridis doesn't quite bring the powerful, tortured figure back from her historical purgatory. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.