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Friday, December 26, 2014

“The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile” by C.W. Gorner

Title: “The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile”
Author: C.W. Gorner
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2012
Genre(s): historical romance
Part of a Series: No

Why I Read It: Because I’m interested in Isabella of Castile and it looked good.

Summary: Isabella has been raised with her mother and brother in the sheltered palace of Avejelo. Her half-brother, King Enrique, invites her and Alfonso to stay with him at his court. There, they face corruption, temptation and intrigue. But Isabella also meets Fernando, a distant cousin who is heir to the throne of neighboring country Aragon. They are drawn together and flirt before Fernando has to leave. Powerful men convince Alfonso to rise against his brother, leaving Isabella as a prisoner in her brother’s court. But Alfonso is successful and Enrique is left powerless. Isabella is free. But when her brother dies, Isabella is thrust back into the world of political intrigue. She chooses to support her brother, but that keeps hurting her. Isabella chooses to marry Fernando and has to keep battling her brother. When she becomes queen, it only gets harder. She struggles to be the queen that ends up in the history book.

Review: As I said, I am interested in Isabella of Castile. She was a queen in her own right at a time of kings. And a very powerful queen too. It seemed interesting to read a novel about her.

Gorner starts when Isabel is a young girl still living at her father’s court. He’s depicted as a weak ruler who is caught between his wife and the grandees who exert control over him. When he dies, Isabel and her brother Alfonso leave court before her half-brother Enrique, the new king, can harm them. So Isabel grows up isolated from the court until she’s a teenager. Gorner makes the decision to skip most of Isabel’s childhood and go straight to her as a teenager. It’s a good choice, allowing the readers to get right to main part of the story.

Gorner also paints a good picture of Enrique’s court. It’s a place of debauchery and danger. Enrique is very much his father’s son. He is weak-willed and is ruled by his wife and grandees. His lifestyle offends his sister’s religious inclinations but she holds her tongue for her own safety. Gorner portrays the danger Isabella is constantly as well. Especially around Enrique’s closest supporters and his wife. The queen takes great delight in tormenting Isabella and this is conveyed quite well.

Onto the romance…Fernando is introduced early in the novel. And it’s love at first sight…for him. He is determined to marry Isabella. She’s a bit more hesitant until he charms her in only a few days. Isabella is then set on marrying him as she grows older and her brother tries to marry her off to get her out of the country. To invalidate her claim to the throne. And for his wife to laud over how much control she had over Isabella’s future as it’s her brother Isabella is to marry. So Isabella plots to marry Fernando.

The romance starts out as reality vs. fantasy. Isabella believes that marriage to Fernando will be great and solve all her problems. And at first, he’s really romantic. But there are still outside problems. Namely from her brother, who refuses to acknowledge Isabella’s marriage and accuses Isabella of treason. Isabella and Fernando have to fight for their marriage but ultimately emerge victorious.

They then have internal problems. Fernando has to go fight off the French from invading Aragon. Isabella deals with the separation and fresh threats from Enrique. She makes a peace with her brother but still worries for her safety. When he dies, she has to move quick and declares herself queen without Fernando. She works to get the grandees to acknowledge her power. It causes friction between her and her husband. He feels slighted, especially as he comes from a country where women can’t be the ruler. Isabella worries this will cause trouble for them later on. Then she learns of his infidelity while fighting the French. She gives him the cold shoulder, disgusted by his behavior. And this cold shoulder goes on for some time.

It’s an interesting relationship for a romance novel. Most writers tend to idealize relationships. They don’t usually show the dark side of these relationships. How Isabella was blinded by fantasy, how it is shattered and how she moves past it. I liked it. It made their relationship seem stronger. When we see them throughout the rest of the novel, they are a united front and very much in love.

Now onto the inquisition. Of course it plays a part in this story. Namely, we see how it comes to be revived under Isabella and Fernando. It’s mostly from European anti-Semitism disguised as piety. But Isabella starts our hesitant to suspect her subjects. Others work at her, trying to convince her of the dangers those who profess to be Christians but practice Judaism in secret pose. What danger was this? Mostly one in their heads due to superstitious attitudes. The kingdom is enjoying a fragile peace and they are afraid of angering God. Because His chosen people are doing just that. (Some times one of the downsides to reading historical fiction is getting riled up over the bigotry of the past). I like how Isabella is cautious, not wanting to inflict pain on her subjects. But one man’s hatred and a superstitious culture make the conditions right for the Inquisition. I’m not sure if it’s indicative of Isabella’s real feelings or if the author just made her more in line with our modern sympathies though.

The last half of the book is focused on Fernando and Isabella’s Reconquista. Isabella as a military leader is quite inspiring. And Fernando is not threatened by his wife’s intelligence. He’s turned on it, honestly. They are the perfect pair: she’s the brains, he’s the brawn.

Bottom line: A great novel about a strong, fascinating queen.
Sex: Some, but nothing too graphic.

Moonlight Musing

Who is your favorite queen?

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