Author: C.W. Gortner
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 400 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 12 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
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.
The Queen's Vow is a great first introduction to a well-known and well-recommended historical fiction author. I've heard and seen C.W. Gortner's name bandied about frequently as one of the best for compelling, researched and still original novels and every claim is only reinforced by my reading experience with this novel about Castile's complicated and dramatic queen. Without condescension or annoying repetition, this mostly-factual story of 15th-century hotbed of war, religious strife and rebellion in what is now known as simply Spain, is riveting from start to finish - once The Queen's Vow, and the formidable Isabella, hit their stride, it is nearly impossible to put down. Told with an even pace and a clear voice, this four-hundred page, multi-part novel pretty much guaranteed that I will be reading more by this author, and soon. In a genre that can often seem quite overbloated with English and French-situated books, this exploration into the fertile and sunbaked lands of Spain is a welcome and exciting change.
The most remarkable aspect of the entire endeavor is the main character of Isabella herself. With the advantage of perspective and history on our side, it's clear that the infanta of Castile is a woman of complicated nature; someone that is sadly often naive in her religious judgments, but one who is conversely amazingly progressive in terms of women's education and rights (see her intransigence on the rights of her daughters/Castile's and her own sovereignty from Aragon/Ferdinand until an heir is born). C.W. Gortner is a skilled writer that somehow manages to paint a fully-realized and wholly fallible version of the renowned and reviled monarch while still rendering the final character likeable and authentic in her determined role and behaviors. Accepting both good and bad facets of her personality and her reign, The Queen's Vow offers up possible reasons for the cruel decisions Isabella made for her realm without diverging too far from the roadmap of history. It's easy to both root for Isabella in her desperate times and to curse at her when she is so easily manipulated by the men in her life at different turns: Carrillo, Enrique, Torquemada, even Ferdinand. Throughout all her trials and even her mishaps, it cannot be denied that this Isabella has life and is never boring to read.
It's a credit to both the author and the novel itself that because Isabella is a historical figure largely ignored on her own noteworthy merits (maaaybe vaguely known to the general populace because of the connection Christopher Columbus) her story here is completely fresh and engaging. Unlike the Tudors/Borgias, who have been done over and over (with varying degrees of success), this view into the overlooked Trastamara royal family is happily unreminiscent of any other historical fiction I've read. The tertiary characters are a bit hard to keep track of initially due to my lack of experience with this setting, but the author eases the reader comfortably into the Castile he has reimagined. The endless wars and battles, the required Court intrigue, the drama - all were evenly and uniformly handled in The Queen's Vow. Despite the fact that war was pretty much the normal state of being for Isabella and her husband, the novel is careful to mix the battles between many other historical events so as not to sacrifice the principles' characterization or plot advancement. Time easily speeds by while turning the pages - for the real world as well as the pacing of the book. The novel can breeze over years at a time with a sentence, which didn't bother me so much as streamline the narrative of a real person.