Alexandria Brim's Reviews > The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner
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's review
May 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, european-history, reviewed
Read from August 11 to December 23, 2014

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 at that. It seemed interesting to read a novel about her.

Gortner 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. Gortner 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. Whatever we need to know about her childhood is woven expertly into the narrative.

Isabella and her brother are sent to their half-brother's court, where Gortner paints a good picture. It’s a place of debauchery and danger. Enrique is very much his father’s son, weak-willed and ruled by his wife and grandees. His lifestyle offends his sister’s religious inclinations but she holds her tongue for her own safety. Gortner portrays the danger Isabella is in 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…at least 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. It's a bid to invalidate her claim to the throne. And it allows his wife to laud over Isabella how much control she had over Isabella’s future as it’s her brother, the king of Portugal, Isabella is to marry. So Isabella plots to marry Fernando and they work hard to make the marriage a reality.

The romance starts out as a reality vs. fantasy situation. Isabella believes that marriage to Fernando will be great and solve all her problems. Oh, to be young and idealistic. And at first, he’s really romantic. But Isabella's outside problems still remains. Namely 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.

With the external problems taken care of, they then face internal problems. Fernando has to go fight off the French, who are invading Aragon. Isabella deals with the separation and fresh threats from Enrique. She makes 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. It also 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, especially with their daughter. Then she learns of his infidelity while fighting the French. Devastated, she gives him the cold shoulder, disgusted by his behavior. And this cold shoulder goes on for some time in the book.

It’s an interesting relationship for a romance novel. Most writers tend to idealize and romanticize (is that a pun?) relationships. They don’t usually show the dark side of romances. Or at least the ones I read. But I liked it. I liked how Isabella was blinded by fantasy, how it is shattered and how she moves past it. I liked it because 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. Isabella starts out 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. Gortner doesn't provide much insight, saying that the version of Isabella in the novel is what he believed from what clues he found in his research.

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.

Do I recommend it? Yes, I do. Especially if you like Isabella of Spain.

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Reading Progress

08/11/2014 marked as: currently-reading
7.0% "The queen is insane."
11.0% "The queen is insane."
18.0% "Methinks Fernando is already bespotted."
23.0% "I <3 Isabella and Ferdinand."
26.0% "Isabella the prisoner."
30.0% "Pride comes before a fall, Juana."
36.0% "Isabella knows what she wants to do."
41.0% "Go, Isabella, go!"
45.0% "Wedding time!"
53.0% "Sibling reunion?"
58.0% "Welcome back, Fernando"
60.0% "Methinks Fernando is no crackerjack prize."
64.0% "To war with Portugal!"
70.0% "Oh, look at the anti-Semitism."
72.0% "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

(You know that was coming)"
78.0% "You should've trusted your gut, Isabella."
87.0% "Enter Columbus"
12/23/2014 marked as: read
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