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Review: The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner

The Last Queen
by C. W. Gortner
            I have been looking forward to reading this book for AGES, ever since I saw it while shopping in London. Queen Juana of Spain is usually overlooked due to the tribulations of her younger sister Katherine of Aragon. But Juana’s story, especially as told by C. W. Gortner in The Last Queen is just as compelling, tragic and disturbing as any event in the Tudor court.
            Juana pens her memoirs as an old woman, imprisoned in Tordesillas by her relatives because she is insane. Utterly isolated and alone save for the corpse of her husband and servants loyal to her enemies, she takes to writing as a way of sharing her life with others, beginning with her childhood as an Infanta of Spain, when she lived under the iron will of her mother, the great Isabella of Spain. This formidable woman arranged a marriage for Juana to Philip, Duke of Burgundy and heir to the Holy Roman Empire. The passion he ignites in Juana – not for nothing is called ‘Philip the Handsome’ – leads to the happiest time in her life as they celebrate being young newlyweds in love. However, things fall apart when Juana catches Philip in bed with another woman. At the time, infidelity was quite normal for a royal husband, and Juana’s demand for absolute fidelity drives a wedge between Philip and her that will never disappear, even as Juana produces one healthy child after another. Eager to thrust them further apart is Philip’s ruthless right-hand man, Archbishop Besancon, a man who seeks power for Philip but cares little about Juana or Spain’s interests. He draws Philip away from Juana, siding with the advisor over his wife in everything. When her older siblings die and Juana becomes heir to the throne, suddenly Besancon’s intentions become crystal-clear: their marriage was not to unite the kingdoms of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire in a union as powerful of Castile and Aragon. Instead of Juana ruling as Queen with Philip as her Prince-Consort, Besancon wants her to cede her throne to Philip and grant him Kingship. Enraged, Juana must fight for her birthright, but with no one on her side and vicious rumors about her spreading faster than the plague, Juana’s dream for reconciliation with her husband and a peaceful life ruling Spain with her children dies a little every day.
            Every little action Juana takes to preserve the life she was raised for is twisted and blown to ridiculous proportions. In the brutal propaganda Philip and his powerful cohorts spread there seems to be many parallels to the modern quest for power. In the power play and media frenzy of America’s presidential campaigns I see potential inspiration for Gortner’s sympathetic portrait of Queen Juana. She is prone to temper and rash action, but Juana the Mad isn’t crazy at all. 
            I really enjoyed The Last Queen, and it reads very quickly. The history and weight of political intrigue are masterfully handled so that the story is never bogged down with mind-numbing info-dumps.   The elements of the story are also extremely balanced, with no action being sacrificed for the sake of backroom monologues and discussions and sweet domestic concerns tempering the endless pageantry of the royal courts. Imprisoned by her father, husband and son Juana was silenced for most of her life but in Gortner’s hand, she is finally given a chance to tell her fascinating tale.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 22nd, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
Sounds like another to add to my growing list of books to read
Sep. 22nd, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
I have this book sitting on my shelf so I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Sep. 24th, 2008 01:11 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say, I added your journal as friend if you don't mind. Ironically, not a lot of my friends read particularly diverse genres as you do and sometimes I have no one to talk about books.

Today someone recommended me Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda? Have you ever read any of them? Just curious. Thanks.
Sep. 24th, 2008 01:45 am (UTC)
I don't mind at all! If you want to add my personal journal 'k00kaburra' as well I'll read your journal too; unfortunately I'm just not organized enough to read the friends of both journals. :-p

I haven't read either of those authors. I am not at all familiar with South American writers, unfortunately.
Sep. 24th, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)
Actually, I'd rather you don't read my journal. It's full of useless angry rants haha but I like reading about other people, I guess because I love reading anything (But seriously I'll spare you the agony of reading my journal. It's no fun at all honest!)

He said I would like those authors. One more thing have you read Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman?

Lately, I thinking about getting more into contemporary fiction about different cultures and history.

Thanks a lot for your time!
Sep. 26th, 2008 12:49 am (UTC)
No problem! Like I said, I don't read the journals that friend me here (sadly, no time!) so no biggie!

I haven't read anything by Alan Lightman, either. The book sounds extremely interesting, though. The dreams of a young Albert Einstein while he was working on hismost famous theories...could be fascinating!
Sep. 25th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
plenty to catch up on, i see. having been away from all internet for some while.

Oct. 5th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
This book sounds good! It's been on my TBR pile for a while, but I have so many other things to read in the meantime.
Oct. 20th, 2008 08:24 am (UTC)
Wow, this actually sounds really interesting and sad, I'll haft to look for it....if I can its Thailand. xD
Oct. 20th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
This sounds like a really good book. I would love to read it.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 05:11 am (UTC)
Awesome review! I just added it to my TBR.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to read this one. It sounds that the author does a wonderful job of making Queen Juana a character with dimension and depth. To me, this what makes historical fiction such a wonderful genre.
Oct. 24th, 2008 03:51 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this book! One thing that really stuck with me was the whole scope of her life, when you look at how long she was imprisoned, and look at say, the reigning monarchs of England which maybe more familiar. She was born during the reign of Edward IV, was imprisoned when the reign of Henry VIII was only around a year old, and died during the reign of Mary I. She was 75 and had been imprisoned for more than half her life.
Oct. 24th, 2008 03:52 am (UTC)
Sorry...should have appended my name to that!


nellista [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] au
Oct. 24th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed The Last Queen. It seemed historically accurate enough but with enough of a twist to make me search out some non fiction books to confirm/deny. Poor Juana was sadly overlooked.
Oct. 27th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
The Last Queen has been on my wish list ever since I first heard about it. I check C W Gortner's blog regularly. Please enter me for a chance to win this book.
lcbrower40 at gmail dot com
Oct. 29th, 2008 11:57 am (UTC)
This sounds wonderful! I actually read a book that was partially about Juana but mostly about Katherine of Aragon and I've been really interested in Jauana's story ever since! This'll definitely have to go on the 'to read pile'
Nov. 9th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for such a detailed overview - I rarely find good reads about queens in history unless they're related to the Tudors. asthenight at gmail dot com
Feb. 16th, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
Grazie per le informazioni di grande! Non avrei scoperto questo altrimenti!
Jul. 12th, 2011 01:14 am (UTC)
Excellent blog, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Keep post
Just keep doing good posts.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


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