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The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of…

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile (edition 2012)

by C. W. Gortner

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Title:The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile
Authors:C. W. Gortner
Info:Ballantine Books (2012), Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Read & Owned

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The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner



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In this fictionalized account of Isabella of Castile, the Queen comes to life to the reader, perhaps in a slightly different manner than I remember her from studying world history. The novel shows how she came to power following the death of her brother, and the opposition she faced from his illegitimate daughter in a time before DNA testing would have settled the matter once and for all. We also see her devotion to the Catholic Church. The author portrays her as being tolerant of the Jews for many years but finally giving in to Torquemada's desire to extend the Inquisition beyond the "conversos" to those Jews who never became Christians. I could not help but be disappointed in her weakness in giving in to Torquemada to persecute God's chosen people. I really don't think a person can truly appreciate so much of what Jesus did for us on the Cross without an understanding of Jewish tradition. It does show her support of Colon's (i.e. Christopher Columbus) venture which led to Spain's conquest of many new lands. The author does describe departures from historical record at the end of the book. I listened to the Blackstone Audio version of the book narrated by Rosalyn Landor, who did an excellent job. ( )
1 vote thornton37814 | Apr 19, 2017 |
4.5 Stars

Historical novelist C.W. Gortner's latest release, The Queen's Vow, is a biographical novel about one of history's most famous female monarchs, Isabella of Castile. While the novel doesn't follow Isabella's life and reign in their entirety, it does cover their most significant aspects, including her early years with her mother and brother in Arevalo, her tumultuous days at the court of her half-brother King Enrique, her marriage to Fernando of Aragon and fight for her crown, and her reign as Queen of Castile up until her decision to sponsor Christopher Columbus on his journey to the New World.

Gortner does an admirable job of bringing Isabella of Castile to life and this is complemented by his lovely, descriptive prose. I particularly enjoyed how Gortner chose to characterize Isabella, who is portrayed as an intelligent, loyal and determined woman, one whose chosen courses of action are always made in consideration of what she feels is best for Castile, even if they are actions she doesn't necessarily agree with. While Isabella is often praised for the many reforms she instituted within her Kingdom, including her support for women's education, as well as for her efforts, along with her husband Fernando, towards the unification of Castile and Aragon, she is also much criticized for her agreement to establish the Spanish Inquisition and subsequent expulsion of the Jews. Although Gortner paints Isabella in a positive light throughout most of the novel, he doesn't try to diminish her role in the Inquisition or her decision to expel the Jews. He does however, portray Isabella as a woman who thought long and hard before making such momentous decisions, one who understood what her decisions would mean for those they directly impacted. As Gortner notes in his author's afterword, little to nothing is known about Isabella's true feelings on the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews, so Gortner used what is known about her personality to craft the views she espouses in this novel. While we'll never know if Gortner's interpretation accurately reflects Isabella's actual beliefs, they are consistent with how she is portrayed in the rest of the novel and thus make them plausible.

One of the things I love about reading historical fiction is that it provides the opportunity to not only be entertained, but also informed. Prior to reading this novel my knowledge of Isabella of Castile did not extend much beyond her marriage to Fernando, her sponsorship of Christopher Columbus and the fact that she was the mother of Catherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile. I had no idea she had such a turbulent upbringing, that her marriage to Fernando was arranged at her request, nor that many of the decisions about the rule of Castile were hers to make alone. Thanks to The Queen's Vow I now have a much greater appreciation for Queen Isabella, as well as a desire to learn even more about her.

If you've not read any of C.W. Gortner's novels I highly recommend you do so and The Queen's Vow would be a great place to start. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
Isabella of Castile ruled Castile with her husband Ferdinand of Aragon in the mid- to late-15th century. This work of fiction follows her from when she was born until about 1492, when she granted Christopher Columbus some funds to explore and just after the Jews were expelled from Castile if they didn't convert to Catholicism.

I didn't know much about Isabella of Castile, beyond her being Katherine of Aragon's and Juana of Castile's (“Mad Juana”) mother and that she went to battle with her army. I really enjoyed this! I listened to the audio and although the narrator had a British accent, otherwise it was fine. It mostly held my interest (though I did find my mind wandering during battle scenes near the end!), but I found the rest very interesting. It seemed that – at least in some things – she was forward thinking (but not in everything). The book had her conflicted about the banishment of the Jews, but as Gortner pointed out in his note at the end (I love author's notes at the end of historical fiction!), we don't really know what she thought personally. I should also admit to not waiting till the end of the book to “find” the author's note – remember, I was listening to the audio, so I couldn't just flip ahead – and just checking out wikipedia for more on Isabella! ( )
  LibraryCin | Mar 14, 2015 |
C.W. Gortner is well known for his historical fiction novels and I have been interested in reading his works for many years. This being my first one, I was impressed. His detailing of Isabella is almost sedulous with how painstaking it is. While he painted an extremely detailed portrait of Isabella, I’m not positive he painted her as accurately as she is known for being.

Isabella I of Castile was never expected to amount to anything yet she became known for greatness. Her struggle to claim her true right to the throne after her brother died at an early age is the initial focus of this novel. It also showcases first-hand the initial meeting of Isabella and her future-husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon.

Isabella is known for being a strong, independent queen who was able to reorganize governments and unburden the kingdom of debts that had been crushing for all citizens. She is also well known for her unwavering faith and while we saw moments of faith, I think the focus on her infatuation with a boy she knew for two days is a bit off-base. It’s also unfounded in history as her and her husband did not meet until they were married. The Queen’s Vow focuses heavily on their initial meeting and their subsequent separation after which Isabella pines over him because she’s unable to communicate with him.

I’ve found this to be a common trend with many historical fiction novels (the emphasis on the romance aspect whether it being grounded in history or not) and I can say it often leaves me disappointed. This is especially true when the main character is telling the story of a strong woman in a time when women were constantly impeded. What I also found disconcerting was her disassociation from the corruption and decay that was happening around her. While all this chaos was happening around her she sat silently, biting her tongue and digging her nails in her hands to maintain composure. While I believe this to be done as further proof of her unwavering faith, it actually made her to be a very bland and boring character.

While I wasn’t completely impressed with the representation of Isabella, I was for the most part pleased with the writing style of Gortner and his attention to detail. It’s clear that he researches his topics extensively, I just hope that he doesn’t take too much artistic license in all of his stories. ( )
1 vote bonniemarjorie | Feb 13, 2014 |
I normally don't review books that I just couldn't bring myself to finish without skimming, but in my opinion each book that Gortner has written has been poorer than the last, so I thought I should warn other readers. I was really looking forward to this novel--I'm fascinated by Isabella, and even went very far out of my way on rather bad roads to visit her birthplace while I was living in Spain (a dusty, obscure little town at the time, a rather sad place, with a tiny shrine to her memory in the partially ruined castle where she was born). I really enjoyed [b:The Last Queen|2367495|The Last Queen|C.W. Gortner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320503753s/2367495.jpg|2374321], as I thought the depiction of the harsh landscape of central and southern Spain was evocative without being sentimental; I could just tell, without then knowing anything about the author, that he KNEW Spain, which of course he does as he is half-Spanish and spent years growing up there. I thought his portrait of Juana was excellent; Gortner does crazy quite well. He still is a good man to turn to when looking for a portrait of the unhinged: the depiction of Isabella's whacked-out mother is by far the most compelling part of this novel. The descriptions of the landscape are still good, too, but frankly, it's not enough any more.

This book is not very good at all. It's filled with the most absurd, info-dumping dialogue where people "remind" each other of complicated political machinations of decades past, and chockablock with the most terrible wooden writing, where people's blood run cold and eyebrows lift sardonically, and the villain's breath is always fetid. Gortner seems to have forgotten every lesson on writing that he ever knew, especially the one of SHOWING and not TELLING. Everything seems to be seen at a distance, which is quite a feat when you're dealing with first-person narration.

Isabella comes off as a very modern woman, and kind of a stupid one at that. Where is the determined monarch of the early Renaissance, the fervent believer, the warrior driven by the conviction that she was doing God's work? You won't find her here. There's far too much talk of women's rights, and sentimental sighings over sending off her daughters to be wed. It's not that I don't believe she had a mother's feelings, but royal girls were raised up to be political pawns; for Isabella to describe herself over and over again as being distraught seems to be unrealistic. Her relationship with Fernando--the greatest political/matrimonial alliance in history--is reduced to a a bunch of squabbles that finish with cries and kisses and make-up sex in bed. Isabella doesn't hate anybody except the Portuguese--it's OK to describe them as vermin. Other groups that were sanctioned/expelled/murdered by her orders, such as the Moors, Jews, and Conversos--well, she was terribly sorry; someone else persuaded her to do it. I guess it is all right for Isabella's feelings towards the Portuguese to be accurate--it seems nobody cares about Spain's neighbor to the west--but let's tippy-toe around everyone else for the sake of political correctness. It bothered me that Gortner would rather depict her as weak, or easily persuaded, rather than examine carefully Isabella's attitudes on the social and political turmoil that occured during her reign, merely to spare the modern reader's feelings.

I started skimming the book when Isabella was present at the bedside of her brother when he was dying of plague (really? having the heir to the throne present?) but I was impatient before that, when Gortner had Isabella and Fernando meeting years before they met each other (they actually met the night before their marriage). It's just to make the story better, Gortner says reassuringly in his afterword. Yes, I get it, most readers aren't looking for complete historical accuracy in their novels, but give us something for our troubles. Exciting action. Excellent writing. Or the feeling that we can really understand the characters, who have vanished into the past, even though they are very different from ourselves. Something. Anything.

Queen Isabella was a complex and amazing woman, no matter what you think of her role in history. This novel does not do her justice. At all. ( )
1 vote gaeta1 | Nov 9, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345523962, Hardcover)

Guest Reviewer: Michelle Moran on C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow

Michelle Moran is the international bestselling author of Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, Cleopatra's Daughter, and Madame Tussaud. Her fifth novel The Second Empress will be published in 2012. Michelle’s experiences at archaeological sites around the world inspired her to write historical fiction.

I love how C.W. Gortner chooses maligned women in history and re-examines them in his novels within the context of their era. In The Queen’s Vow, he has done it again, creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable portrait of Isabella of Castile. For all her fame, Isabella is often misunderstood. She’s either revered as a near-saint or despised as a religious intolerant. Of course, most of us know she sent Christopher Columbus to America, but few of us have been told the amazing story of her youth, when Spain was a broken kingdom and she just a forgotten princess, whom no one expected to rule.

It is the mid-1400s. In Europe, most countries are united under one ruler. But in Spain, ancient divisions between the kingdoms of Castile and Aragón, and violent feuds between nobles, have created anarchy. Isabella is the daughter of an exiled widow, and she and her younger brother Alfonso live far from court in the countryside. Their royal father is dead; their mother haunted by the past; and their half brother, Castile’s new king, barely reigns, dominated by his favorites and his conniving, beautiful queen.

Then Isabella and Alfonso are sent to court, where they soon become pawns in a vicious struggle for power. Accused of treason, Isabella is held a prisoner, while her brother leads a rebellion. But when tragedy strikes, Isabella suddenly is named heir to the throne, though no woman before her has successfully ruled for long. As she embarks on a perilous path toward the throne, she indulges a forbidden desire for Prince Fernando of Aragón— a desire that pits her against her half brother the king and his ruthless nobles, all of whom seek her downfall. Can she marry the man she loves and still remain a sovereign queen? And how will she win over all her sworn enemies and restore peace in Spain after centuries of intrigue and discord?

Gortner vividly recreates the turmoil of Isabella’s youth and the striking contrasts of the country she knew, where the last Moors cling to their faded realm in the south and different cultures merge in uneasy alliance. Isabella’s stormy rise to power and quest to become a worthy queen are stunningly described, but what makes Gortner’s Isabella so unique is that while she is brave and daring, she is also conflicted— a fallible woman exercising her power in a traditionally male-dominated world. In her, we can see ourselves. She is like us: passionate and hopeful, proud yet doubtful, compelled to fight for what she believes in. Though The Queen’s Vow doesn’t shy away from the terrible decisions she chooses to make, it reminds us that in the end, Isabella was human, a woman of conviction and strength in a time of upheaval, who forged her destiny despite every odd, to become Spain’s most beloved queen.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:32 -0400)

"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"--… (more)

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