Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner - Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours Review

The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner
2013, Ballantine Books

Format? paperback
Source? the publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
FTC Disclaimer: The publisher provided a complimentary copy of The Queen's Vow in exchange for an honest review.  The review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias.

Title? Yep...makes sense...Isabella vowed to serve her country and keep its interests at the forefront of her life...and she did. 
Cover?  Love it! Isabella was not a Barbie Doll...I appreciate a cover that doesn't try to make her look like one. 

Why? I haven't read anything else about Isabella and I liked that this book was focused on her...not just her along with Ferdinand.  Not very often do we see their names separated.

What Now? I have so much more to learn!
It may also be time for me to watch the Showtime series The Borgias...anybody seen this?

Golden Lines

She embraced me. "You don't need to apologize.  You are my infanta.  I'd go to the ends of the world to serve you." (39)

"Though I'd been raised in a rural area where animals were regularly slaughtered for sustenance, it seemed un-natural to me to turn a creature's suffering into a crowd-pleasing spectacle. (51)

Our families shared Trastamara blood through our ancestors, but enmity and rapacity had led Castile and Aragon to wage war against each other for centuries. (58)

...if Enrique made a bastard his heir, it would be an affront to his divine right to rule.  He would divide the realm, anger the grandees, and invoke chaos.  He would invite God's wrath upon Castile - and upon all of us. (69)

Be brave, Isabella.  Wait for me. (88)

"She's perfect," he whispered to me at night, when he snuck into my rooms, defying the prohibition that I must not receive him until I'd been churched, cleansed of the stain of childbirth by a priest's blessing. (190)

Therefore, while Fernando assumed charge of our military affairs that year, I undertook the diplomatic - suffering endless hours of penning letters until spots danced before my red-rimmed eyes and my fingertips bled. (198)

Cardenas nodded, clearly discomfited to be the bearer of this news.  "He told me that just as he raised Your Majesty to your current station, so will he take you down." (244)

"Few will support the defense of those deemed responsible for our Savior's crucifixion." (271)

"...We are building a new nation for a new age; it's what we dreamed of, all those years ago.  This is our time.  And once we purify Castile and Aragon, we'll turn our sword on Granada.  We'll take up the Reonquista and rid the land forever of the infidel." (298)

I first met the Genovese navigator in the monastery of Guadalupe in Extremadura, where we'd come to stay shortly after the New Year celebrations. (328)

"Fine," I conceded, "no armor.  It's too hot anyway.  Just a breastplate and sword," I added, "in case I should run into one of those mishaps you seem so concerned about." (337)

"No." His voice was flat. "There will be no withdrawal.  No one threatens my wife." (342)

By royal command, every Jew who did not convert to the Catholic faith must leave (368).

Short and Sweet Summary

Third in line to the throne of Castile, Isabella was never expected to rule.  However, rule she did, with Ferdinand of Aragon at her side.  A woman of strength and not just an adornment for her husband, Isabella relied on her staunch Catholic faith to guide everything she did and encouraged those around her to do the same. 

What I Liked

The Google Factor:
expectations of widowed queens the children of those marriages
King Juan II, Isabel of Portugal and Constable Luna
Archbishop Carrillo of Toledo
Beatriz Bobadilla
calming "drafts"
Enrique and Blanca of Navarre
King Enrique IV, Marquis Villena, Queen Juana, Beltran de la Cueva, and Joanna la Beltraneja
Salic Law and the history of female succession
hija mia, aya
Dona Mencia de Mendoza, lady-in-honor to Queen Juana
ladies' style of the Moorish tradition including makeup
grandees, sala, dai, alcazar, scimitars, obsequies, Te Deum, intransigence,
Louis of France - the "spider"
availability of clean water
Alfonso, Isabella's brother
Alfonso of Portugal
Fray Tomas de Torquemada
existing letters between Ferdinand and Isabella
Don Fadrique Enriquez, Lord of Medina and Admiral of Castile
the Black Death/the plague and flux
wedding night customs
Cardinal Borgia
the prenuptial agreement - Capitulations
Tanto monta, monta tanto
Con blandura
Sephardic influence at court
Heresy and conversos, mass conversions of 1391
"My moon"
Rabbi Abraham Seneor, Cabrera, Cardenas, Chacon - the inner council
Jewish persecution
the Holy tribunal of the Inquisition in Castile
Medicis of Florence, Habsburgs of Austria, and Edward IV, the printing press and educational opportunities for all
birthing customs, dripping honey into the baby's mouth, the birthing stool, did Fernando really stay with Isabella during Maria's birth and the death of her twin?
Juana the Mad
Cuesta de la Matanza, the Hill of the Slaughter
Master Cristobal Colon
Beatriz Galindo, La Latina
Boabdil's surrender at Granada
the Alhambra decree
Moorish Wars

Maps, family tree, discussion with the author about history vs fiction

A royal marriage that was actually happy...I couldn't help but wonder if Ferdinand and Isabella's marriage was successful because each was a monarch in his/her own right.  The power was equally divided via a prenuptial agreement which was designed to protect the interests of both Castile and Aragon but ended up also protecting the interests/responsibilities of the king and queen's peoples in order for them to be able to focus on each other.  That's my romantic notion of it anyway...even though I like to declare myself without a romantic bone in my body :/

Isabella's desire and work toward education for women.

What I Didn't Like

A reminder that even though we like to heap criticism on Henry VIII, his lifetime and particularly the treatment of his wives, royalty were raised to believe that their rights were divinely appointed.  Personal happiness was not an option; they had been born to serve God and no one else.  If they had to cut down their own family members to protect God, then so be it.

The sad reality that even though theirs was a happy marriage, Fernando still fathered illegitimate children by other women.

Another sad reality that even a well loved queen spent much of her life defending her throne and/or trying to produce sons.

Because of their propensity to name their children the same names...for many generations, it is difficult to keep up sometimes with who's who when you go off on your own to learn more.  I never felt lost while reading Gortner's novel, but I did have to re-visit chapters to make sure I had all the Juanas, Alfonsos, Enriques, etc straight.

Overall Recommendation

Those interested in the life of a strong queen who actually participated in her reign in other ways besides dressing, scheming and/or preparing herself for her husband's whims will enjoy this foray into the life of Isabella.  Gortner also provides the readeer with a detailed look into the history of Jewish persecution as well as that of early Muslims.

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

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

Monday, July 8
Review at nomadreader

Tuesday, July 9
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 Paperback Princess

Tuesday, July 16
Review at Book Nerds

Wednesday, July 17
Review at Book Addict Katie
Review at Always with a Book

Thursday, July 18
Interview at WTF Are you Reading?

Friday, July 19
Review at A Book Geek

Monday, July 22

Tuesday, July 23
Review at Lost in Books
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook

Wednesday, July 24
Review at Legacy of a Writer

Thursday, July 25
Review at Booktalk & More
Guest Post at Lost in Books

Friday, July 26

Monday, July 29

Tuesday, July 30
Review at Long Ago Love
Review & Interview at The Life & Times of a Book Addict

Wednesday, July 31
Review at My Reading Room

Thursday, August 1
Review at vvb32 Reads
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. I read this last year when it came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. His books are always good. My only problem was the glossing over of the Inquisition. You can't write about Isabella and not include it. It was really just a side note in this book as if trying to present her without it.

    I appreciate the times, I appreciate the pressures but the fact remains that she was fervent in her Catholicism and she had her instrument in Torquemada.

    1. I'm no scholar on this part of history that's for sure, but I got the impression that the timeframe of this particular novel was before the Inquisition was re-instated. You're right though; there is not much about the beginnings of the Inquisition and the consequences. I'm ashamed to say there is much about this history that I do not know...but I'm gonna learn :)

  2. I love a book that makes me run to Google to get more information, to look at paintings, etc. Sounds like a fun one!

    1. That, in a nutshell, Natalie, is my test for a good work of historical fiction :)

  3. This looked interesting but if it's got little on the Inquisition, then I will skip it. Great review, Patti.

    1. The Queen's Vow ends right as Ferdinand and Isbella make the decision to re-instate the inquisition. They are painted in the light of two monarchs who were deeply Catholic and believed it their duty to either convert the Muslims and Jews or to force them to leave. Isabella especially was troubled by the "damnation" of her subjects' souls and wanted nothing more that to convert them all to Christianity. It will be interesting to dig a little deeper and see what other perspectives emerge. Do you have any recommendations?

  4. When I was learning about this dynamic duo in World History two years ago, I thought the same thing--would each one of them have been as individually respected if they weren't each the premier royals of their own countries? It's so sad to think that many great women came so close to having the positions of real power they deserved, but didn't because of the time's gender strictures.

    1. Just imagine what so many potentially strong women could have been and could have accomplished if they'd had the opportunities.

  5. Thanks for the comment - if you are in NOLA message me! I am (injury-gods permitting) running the full. The half is a great course.

    1. I've heard this half is a perfect one to start with bc it's pretty flat and easy comparatively. We can't wait!

  6. I love Gortner's fiction -- excited to read this one!