Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 12th June 2012
Book Source: Random House & NetGalley
Synopsis: 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.
I'm a huge fan of C W Gortner's writing, there is nothing better than a history lesson that doesn't feel like a history lesson; something Christopher manages to deliver without exception. Thanks to the long, dry chew that was my school history classes I'd never have believed that I'd find history riveting or be a die-hard historical fiction fan ... yet here I am!
I don't remember much about Isabella other than the obvious ... her financing of Columbus' discovery of the New World, the horror of the Spanish inquisition and persecution of the Jews that stained her reign, overshadowing many of her achievements. But Gortner opens a door on Isabella's early life, her subsequent reign, qualities good and poor, achievements and motivations, he offers a picture of a Queen balancing faith and a desire to see her church restored to its former glory with the need for compassion, weighted by indecision and guilt.
Gortner attributes the motto con blandura - with a soft touch, to Isabella ... an adage he also seems to take with her portrayal, a portrayal I think Isabella would have appreciated ... I know I did.
I did want to slap Isabella a time or two and I'm putting the blame for that squarely on Mr Gortner's shoulders ... his writing makes Isabella so accessible it's easy to forget that what is transpiring has already come to pass ;)
Isabella's a strong, determined woman, achieving a love match with Fernando of Aragon in an era when marrying for anything other than strategy and alliance was virtually unheard of. Theirs seemed to be a true partnership, both personal and political; a partnership of love, respect and passion. She was a visionary, a formidable monarch, the equal of her husband, a loving mother, (I'd forgotten she was the mother of Catherine of Aragon) patron of women's education; she certainly had her finger on the pulse of things.
I wanted to bequeath a legacy that went beyond warfare. Though I strived for spiritual and physical unity for Spain, I believed a truly great country, one that would endure for centuries, must be built on the foundation of a literate and well-rounded society.
The Queen's Vow is a completely engaging read that humanises Isabella of Castile and brings the Requonista to life with the impeccable research and vivid detail customary to C W Gortner's work. Whilst I loved and highly recommend The Queen's Vow for fans of historical fiction, The Last Queen (Juana's story - Isabel & Ferdinands' daughter) and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici remain my favourites ... maybe the more maligned, the more I like ;)