The tale is as old as time, of beauty and the beast. We know the story from either Disney or retellings. A peasant girl finds herself locked in a castle with a prince who is transformed into a hideous beast. He can only change back into a human if he can learn to love another person. Like many fairy tales, we often ask ourselves whether this story can be based on historical facts. Molly Greeley believes that Beauty and the Beast’s origins could be found in the true story of Pedro and Catherine Gonzales, who lived in the court of Catherine de Medici. She has chosen to tell their love story in her latest novel, “Marvelous.”
I want to thank William Morrow and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this novel. Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up, so when I heard this was a historical fiction retelling, I jumped at the opportunity to read it. I had only read a brief mention of Pedro’s daughter Tognina (Antoinette) Gonslavus earlier this year, so I was curious about her father’s tale.
Pedro’s story begins on the small island of Tenerife as an orphan boy who the village fears for his outward appearance. Pedro’s entire body is covered in hair, and he is considered a devil or a monster. One day, Pedro is kidnapped by pirates and sold to the highest bidder as an oddity; the highest bidder is the King of France, Henri II. King Henri II sees potential in Pedro, so he gives him the name of Petrus Gonslavus and an education worthy of a royal.
As a reward for his services to the king, Catherine de Medici grants Pedro a place in her court and a wife, Catherine Raffelin, the daughter of a merchant, who was down on his luck. It would be an understatement to say their marriage was off to a rough start, but Pedro shows her a world full of glamorous splendor and prejudice toward people who were considered “oddities.” With the birth of their children, Antoinette, Madeline, and Henri, we also see how France changes after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the fall of the House of Valois. We also get to see how different countries during the 16th century and early 17th century handled people who were considered different.
My favorite historical fiction novels are when famous figures like kings, queens, and princesses take a back seat to lesser-known figures from the past. It breathes new life into historical events and provides a fresh lens into the past. Greeley gives her readers a love story on the level of beauty and beast by following the mysterious Gonzales family.
Greeley does a masterful job of telling Pedro and Catherine’s tales from their perspectives. It was a joy to read this novel, and I hope others will fall in love with the Gonzales family through this book. Suppose you want a stunning historical fiction novel full of love and a protagonist unlike any you have read before set in the reign of Catherine de Medici. In that case, I highly recommend you read “Marvelous” by Molly Greeley.