Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley/Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: June 19, 2013

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.

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I consider myself a historic fiction reader. It is my primary stomping ground and the genre I feel I am most competent reviewing and yet, for some inexplicable reason it took me nine years to pick up and read anything by C.W. Gortner. How did I manage such as oversight you ask? I have not the slightest idea, but I will say, having read both The Queen's Vow and The Tudor Conspiracy within weeks of one another, that Gortner has quickly become one of my all time favorite authors and a staple of my personal library. 

Now despite my having written and released my reviews in the reverse order, I actually read The Queen's Vow before The Tudor Conspiracy, a chance decision that gave me what is apparently a unique view of Gortner's work. Older fans seem to have mixed feelings about this piece and while I completely respect their opinions, I think they might be selling Gortner just a bit short. Yes, the pacing of this novel does not rival his other works and there is an incredible amount of detail within these pages, but from what I understand the scope of those stories depend on movement and tension while that of this book is much more subtle, the incredible detail necessary to the telling.  Perhaps it is just me, but I believe comparing the two is rather like debating apples and oranges. 

The Queen's Vow is at its core a fictional exploration of a woman who has been defined by the unfortunate results of her political policies. Scholars tend to judge Isabella of Castile in hindsight, recognizing and often reviling her for those decisions that led to the persecution of thousands under the Spanish Inquisition as well as the decimation of native populations in both North and South America. What Gortner is asking his readers in The Queen's Vow is if this assessment is fair? Should we really judge this woman by the outcome of her declarations or should we consider instead the intent and context in which they were made. On the surface it makes for less intense reading, but I personally believe there is much to be said for a book that makes you reconsider the way you think of and view history. 

Those who appreciate Tudor lit will find additional merit in this piece as it gives readers insight into the much maligned Catherine of Aragon. Her faithful devotion to Catholicism is legendary, as is the love she bore her husband and the passion with which she fought for the recognition of her rights as England's Queen and those of her daughter Mary as heir to her father's throne. Admittedly this is the only fiction I've read on Catherine's mother, but I really liked the parallels, intentional or otherwise, emphasized in Gortner's work. By illustrating Isabella's journey, the hurdles she overcame to take her crown and rule in her own right, to marry a man of her own choosing for love rather than political gain, to ensure the stability of her realm through the sincere veneration of the Catholic faith... one would have to be blind not see how such conviction, ambition and determination might mold a daughter born to the woman Gortner paints in The Queen's Vow. 

Tantalizingly provocative and thought-provoking, I found The Queen's Vow an intensely enjoyable read. An eloquent, if fictional, testament to the legacy of one of history's most controversial queens. 

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I had never forgotten the palpable fear I'd felt that night of my father's death; the long ride across dark fields ad forests, avoiding the main roads in case Enrique sent guards in our pursuit. The memory was branded in me, an indelible lesson that life's changes whether or not we were prepared for them...
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Check out all the stops on C.W. Gortner's Virtual Book tour of The Queen's Vow


Tuesday, July 2
Review at The Book Barista
Wednesday, July 3
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, July 4
Review at Sweet Tidbits
Interview at Unabridged Chick
Friday, July 5
Review at Twisting the Lens
Review at Geri, the History Lady
Monday, July 8
Review at nomadreader
Tuesday, July 9
Review at Babies, Books, and Beyond
Guest Post at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Wednesday, July 10
Review at From L.A. to LA
Thursday, July 11
Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.
Monday, July 15
Review at The Bluestocking Society
Review at Paperback Princess
Tuesday, July 16
Review at Book Nerds
Review at WTF Are you Reading?
Wednesday, July 17
Review at Book Addict Katie
Review at Always with a Book
Thursday, July 18
Review at Alternate Readality
Interview at WTF Are you Reading?
Friday, July 19
Review at A Book Geek
Monday, July 22
Review at Jo Jo Loves to Read
Tuesday, July 23
Review at Lost in Books
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Thursday, July 25
Review at Booktalk & More
Guest Post at Lost in Books
Friday, July 26
Review at The Relentless Reader
Tuesday, July 30
Review at Long Ago Love
Review at The Life & Times of a Book Addict
Wednesday, July 31
Review at Legacy of a Writer
Thursday, August 1
Review at vvb32 Reads
Review at Cheryl’s Book Nook
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview at My Reading Room
Friday, August 2
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Amused by Books
Monday, August 5
Review at Reader Girls
Review at Review From Here
Tuesday, August 6
Review at Layered Pages
Guest Post at Review From Here


1 comment:

C.W. Gortner said...

I want to personally thank you for this thoughtful and eloquent review. Writers often struggle to not repeat ourselves; for me, Isabella was the perfect character for telling a different, but no less important story, about women and power. I'm honored by your praise and sincerely hope your readers enjoy THE QUEEN'S VOW.

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