Thursday, June 14, 2012
Review: The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner
Release Date: June 12, 2012
2012 Ballantine Books
Ebook Edition; 400 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
4 / 5 Stars
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.
The Queen's Vow is another interesting novel by C.W. Gortner whereby famous events from a fascinating and troubling historical period are told from the viewpoint of a woman, written by a male author. It's this aspect about C.W. Gortner's writing that I've thought was rather interesting as the focus has always been more on the nurturing side of these famous figures rather than on the political side and the fearsome personalities they must have been.
I've always been rather intrigued by the woman of the fifteen and sixteenth centuries and Queen Isabella is one of those women about whom I have never been sure about. I've usually thought of her as fearsome and rather cold, especially after reading about the Jewish Exodus of 1492 and the Spanish Inquisition in By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan. And to be honest, I'm not sure how to reconcile this Isabella in this novel with the one I've always learned about, the one who was strong and tough and unshakeable in her desires, rather inflexible really. Here, she was much warmer and more willing to negotiate and reconcile with the Conversos and was quite disturbed and shocked when Torquemada started going after the Jews themselves. Considering the political situation during this time period, and the stranglehold the Catholic Church had over most of Europe, and considering Isabella was a woman fighting in a man's world trying to do the best she could while keeping her power base, I can see how she would have struggled with what was happening to her people while trying to keep Rome happy. It definitely gave me something to think about and I would like to do some more reading about her.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of the court and the countryside, and understanding how Isabel's frugal nature developed as she was not one to spend too much on luxuries as she thought it wasteful. I enjoyed learning about the relationships she developed with her mother and brothers, and other close retainers, and the difficult relationship she had with King Enrique who was a rather weak king who let the country go almost bankrupt and on the verge of ruin. It was interesting to see how Ferdinand and Isabel went about changing existing policies in order to fix the deep problems they faced.
While there were some historical facts that were glossed over or were not quite accurate (and the author fully acknowledges this in his comments at the end of the novel), and some of Isabella's more exploits were not necessarily given full attention in this novel, I did enjoy the fact that Gortner spent quite a bit of time exploring the younger years of this remarkable woman who led quite a fascinating life. How a girl with two brothers ended up being Queen of Castile is an interesting story and I enjoyed learning about the court intrigues and some of the difficulties and terrors she faced. It is understandable that she would have grown up with quite a backbone as she would have needed one to survive what she did. She is a woman of the fifteenth century and had to live within the strictures set upon her, morally, spiritually, and politically, and to negotiate between all of them must have been extremely difficult.
The Queen's Vow is a far more sympathetic view of Isabella than any that I have read in the past and I am not quite swayed in the direction Gortner wishes us to take with regards to her personality and her decisions. She had grown up in very difficult conditions, struggling for her life, always fighting for her country and what is best for her people. But she is a product of the times, and growing up with the issue of the Jews and Conversos would have been the norm for her as it has been present in her life from the time of her birth. I do admire her for taking the risks she did in order to secure her throne and she was definitely a strong and admirable queen, but I am unsure that she was as kind and flexible as she was portrayed in this novel. For historical fans looking for an interesting read about a very fascinating time period and a very determined woman, I highly recommend The Queen's Vow as well as any other novel, such as The Last Queen, about Isabelle's daughter Juana, by this author.