The beginning of this book was even harder to read than The Black Tulip. It seemed to me Dumas poured the whole French court in the first chapter that it was difficult to remember who's who. However, after I got used to the names, the book was very enjoyable to read, and like other works by Dumas, this is very worth the money.
The story begins with the marriage between Henry of Bourbon, the king of Navarre, and Marguerite de Valois (Queen Margot), sister of King Charles IX, on 18th August 1572 at the Louvre. It seems there will be peace between the Protestants and Catholics, but queen-mother Catherine de Medicis and Duke de Guise reassure King Charles that the Huguenots (=French Protestants) are dangerous. 6 days after the wedding fête, the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre takes place.
In this book there is also a beautiful story of true friendship. Two handsome young counts, Coconnas, a Catholic, and La Mole, a Protestant, meet for the first time on the evening of the massacre day in an inn. They go to the Louvre together - each for his mission, go back to the inn, dine and play cards together, until comes the time when Coconnas has to kill his new friend because of his religion. La Mole escapes and finds refuge in Queen Marguerite's chamber. La Mole and Coconnas will meet again and, after La Mole's conversion, both serve Duke of Alençon. While La Mole has an affair with Queen Marguerite, Coconnas with the Duchess de Nevers. After King Charles become ill, La Mole and Coconnas are sent to jail, accused of using spell on the king. Both are tortured and beheaded in the end. King Charles agrees to sacrifice his sister's lover to save the family's name, for he knows La Mole and Coconnas are not guilty. It is his own mother who undeliberately poisons him. The story ends with the death of King Charles in 1574.
Catherine de Medicis tries anything to get rid of Henry of Navarre, her son-in-law, but every time there is always the hand of Providence who sabotage her efforts. Henry of Navarre is smart and it's interesting to read how he always escapes from his enemies.
My favourite character in this book is 25 year old La Mole, who has dark complexion, blue eyes, and melancholic smile. I think it's perhaps he is so helpless on the St Bartholomew night, and he helps Coconnas to get well when he is still his enemy. He is also Queen Marguerite's favourite. The last chapters where they torture him is very moving. I hoped he was as fortunate as Coconnas, but no. The strong friendship between them makes Coconnas choose to die with him than running with his beloved Duchess. Coconas says: "As for you, La Mole, you have offended me by thinking for one moment that I would leave you. Did I not swear to live and die with you? But you are in such pain that I forgive you." The part where the executioner takes them to the scaffold in a cart, is more moving (at least for me) than the same scene in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities.
The book contains explanatory notes which is useful, but sometimes they are confusing, unless you are an expert in French history. The notes also show that Dumas was not always faithful to history in order to make his plot interesting.