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Friday, September 06, 2013

The Queen's Vow Another Rich, Compelling Historical From a Master of His Craft

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her father, the king, dies, 4-year-old Isabella of Castille is cast out of the royal residence along with her mother and brother.  Her much-older half brother, Enrique, takes the throne.  The crown supports Isabella's family, but only just.  They're given a new residence, but live in relative poverty, wholly dependent on King Enrique for living expenses.  Not that Isabella's complaining—she enjoys living at Arévalo, where she rides horses and pals around with Beatriz de Bobadilla, her feisty lady-in-waiting.  Some believe she's the rightful heir to Castille's throne, but Isabella's content with her less dramatic lot in life.

Isabella's summoned back to court when she's 14.  King Enrique, it seems, now desires to know his estranged family.  While Alfonso, Isabella's younger brother, is delighted with this turn of events, Isabella's less enthusiastic.  She's not impressed by "the gilded deception of the court, the furtive whispers, barbed glances, and constant plotting that made the alcazar seethe like a viper's nest" (211-12), especially when she realizes she is only a pawn in a much larger game.  With King Enrique's (probably) illegitimate daughter set to ascend the throne after her father's death, pure-blooded Isabella's got a viable claim to the throne.  She doesn't want it—until, after years of being pushed around by the kingdom's different factions, she's ready to take control of not just Castille, but also of her own future.

By the time Isabella ensures her place as Castille's next queen, her kingdom is falling apart.  Beset by corruption, violence and war, it's quickly running out of money and lies vulnerable to invaders from every corner.  Isabella must somehow unite her people, while protecting Castille from enemies both within and without her kingdom.  Heartbreaking, difficult decisions must be made in order to keep Isabella on the throne—just how much will she risk to keep her position?  Everything.  And more.

The Queen's Vow, C.W. Gortner's second book about Spain's queens (The Last Queen concerns Isabella's mother, Juana) is, like his other novels, rich with historical detail, rife with courtly drama and intriguing in its every facet.  Not only does Gortner know how to make a setting come to life, but he is especially skilled at portraying history's great queens as, above all, complex, passionate, flawed human beings.  It's impossible not to feel for Isabella, who manages to carve out her own destiny despite all the forces that try to control her, silence her, imprison her, dethrone her and even kill her.  Her story's an exciting one, perfect for readers who enjoy compelling, well-written novels based on royals who really lived and breathed.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Gortner's other novels, especially The Last Queen)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, sexual content and mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Queen's Vow from the generous folks at Ballantine Books (a division of Random House) via those at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  Thank you!
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