July 1st, 2012

the red queen.

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

The Queen’s Vow
by C. W. Gortner

After the death of her father when she is only a few years old, the princess Isabella is forced to flee with her mother and brother to a backwater castle. It is here in perpetual poverty she grows up, as her half-brother drains the kingdom’s resources at his lavish court in Segovia. As she enters her teens, Isabella, along with her brother Alfonso, is summoned to join King Enrique at court. It becomes clear that the nobles are unhappy with the present ruler, and the siblings are soon enmeshed in plots to dethrone Enrique and place Alfonso on the throne. Even as distrust is sown between the newly reunited family members, Isabella finds happiness with Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragon. Overcoming many obstacles, the two eventual marry, and together Isabella and Fernando take on the challenge of unifying Spain both politically and spiritually.

Isabella of Castile was certainly a formidable woman, best remembered today as the warrior queen who expelled the Moors and the Jews from Spain. She was a clever politician who managed to rule in her own right at a time when women usually couldn’t inherit the crown, but she was also the Catholic queen who ushered in the infamous Spanish Inquisition. It’s quite surprising that more books haven’t been written about such an unusual and enigmatic queen! The Queen’s Vow takes a sympathetic view of the monarch and her policies. This is an Isabella reluctant to embrace the extreme views of the Church, a queen who agrees to displace her Jewish subjects only after it becomes clear that protecting them will only lead to more turmoil and strife. She is still a Catholic queen, of course, and follows the tenets of that faith, but this is not the extreme fanatic of popular culture.

Her relationship with her husband, Fernando, begins as a fairy tale romance. Isabella sees Fernando almost as a knight in shining armor who loves her and rescues her from danger. But as the two mature and become sovereign rulers of their respective kingdoms, the dynamic of their relationship changes. Certainly, they are still a loving husband and wife, but Fernando is sensitive to the fact that his kingdom is considered inferior to Castile and though she is his wife, Isabella is more powerful than him. The care which Isabella takes to tend to her husband’s ego is touching, but at times it leads her to make decisions that she otherwise would avoid.

I really enjoyed this book, and only wish that it had gone on longer. But in a way, it does continue on! For further reading, check out The Last Queen, Gortner’s novel about Isabella’s daughter Juana. It was written first but also works as a sequel. If I remember correctly (and it has been several years now since I read it) the story begins not too distantly from the end of The Queen’s Vow.

4 out of 5 stars

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