Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review: The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner

No one believed I was destined for greatness.

So begins Isabella's story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history's most famous and controversial queens-the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother's home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her-Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under "one crown, one country, one faith," Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella's resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen's Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

Click here to view the book trailer on YouTube.  

My Review

4.5 Stars

Historical novelist C.W. Gortner's latest release, The Queen's Vow, is a biographical novel about one of history's most famous female monarchs, Isabella of Castile.   While the novel doesn't follow Isabella's life and reign in their entirety, it does cover their most significant aspects, including her early years with her mother and brother in Arevalo, her tumultuous days at the court of her half-brother King Enrique, her marriage to Fernando of Aragon and fight for her crown, and her reign as Queen of Castile up until her decision to sponsor Christopher Columbus on his journey to the New World.  

Gortner does an admirable job of bringing Isabella of Castile to life and this is complemented by his lovely, descriptive prose.  I particularly enjoyed how Gortner chose to characterize Isabella, who is portrayed as an intelligent, loyal and determined woman, one whose chosen courses of action are always made in consideration of what she feels is best for Castile, even if they are actions she doesn't necessarily agree with.   While Isabella is often praised for the many reforms she instituted within her Kingdom, including her support for women's education, as well as for her efforts, along with her husband Fernando, towards the unification of Castile and Aragon, she is also much criticized for her agreement to establish the Spanish Inquisition and subsequent expulsion of the Jews.  Although Gortner paints Isabella in a positive light throughout most of the novel, he doesn't try to diminish her role in the Inquisition or her decision to expel the Jews.  He does however, portray Isabella as a woman who thought long and hard before making such momentous decisions, one who understood what her decisions would mean for those they directly impacted.  As Gortner notes in his author's afterword, little to nothing is known about Isabella's true feelings on the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews, so Gortner used what is known about her personality to craft the views she espouses in this novel.  While we'll never know if Gortner's interpretation accurately reflects Isabella's actual beliefs, they are consistent with how she is portrayed in the rest of the novel and thus make them plausible.

One of the things I love about reading historical fiction is that it provides the opportunity to not only be entertained, but also informed.   Prior to reading this novel my knowledge of Isabella of Castile did not extend much beyond her marriage to Fernando, her sponsorship of Christopher Columbus and the fact that she was the mother of Catherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile.  I had no idea she had such a turbulent upbringing, that her marriage to Fernando was arranged at her request, nor that many of the decisions about the rule of Castile were hers to make alone.   Thanks to The Queen's Vow I now have a much greater appreciation for Queen Isabella, as well as a desire to learn even more about her.

If you've not read any of C.W. Gortner's novels I highly recommend you do so and The Queen's Vow would be a great place to start.     

Note: I received a copy of The Queen's Vow from the publisher as part of the blog tour for the novel. 

You can check out the tour schedule by clicking here.  
You can also follow the tour on twitter by using the hash tag: #QueensVowVirtualTour

Be sure to stop by on June 22 when I'll feature an interview with C.W. Gortner.