The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile - C.W. Gortner After my semi rant about there not being enough fiction about Isabella, I was ecstatic when I saw this book.

A story from a notable historical fiction author about a woman and her husband who, in a highly patriarchical age, made Spain from

to -> ?

Yes, please!

As this is my first time reading fiction on Isabella, I have to say I'm impressed at the author's grasp of the time period. He certainly isn't shy about weaving abundant historical commentary into the narrative, and his treatment of the time period seemed well rounded, if not a little cautious.


Plot Summary

The book narrates Isabella's life from her time as an disenfranchised and impoverished princess, up to the birth of her last child. Second in line to a heavily disputed throne, the most Isabella could hope for was that her mother and her heir brother could provide some stability for her future. This changes when Isabella and her brother are called to court by their half-brother, the current king. Though Isabella tries to distance herself from the corruption and intrigues of court, that proves impossible when whispers of the illegitimacy of the king's heir drives a wedge between the king and her family. Then, when her brother dies, Isabella finds herself thrust as the new queen of Castile and the realm.


Reactions

At the epicenter of a tumultuous era, Isabella provides a perfect insider's perspective of the inner workings of the time. As well as gaining top-level political insights, I expected to feel Isabella’s inner turmoil, her love of her state and her king, her doubts and her strengths. But while I found the political and historical narrative to be strong, the portrayal of Isabella as an actual living, breathing, hot-blooded young woman was very lacking.

Isabella seemed too distant and too above the political corruption and discord of the Spanish court. I can partially understand why the author portrayed her thus. Isabella does not attract the controversy of more colorful women such as Cleopatra or Marie Antoinette, and is instead cast as a the pillar of moral rectitude, regardless of her age and experience. Unfortunately, this makes her character in the book rather boring. The only times I saw Isabella as a real person, rather than an untouchable figurehead, was her dealing with Fernando, and since the couple spent most of their time separated with their numerous campaigns, those scenes were not as frequent as I would have liked.

I also don't like how the author didn't dirty Isabella's hands in any of her political dealings. He glazed over Isabella's role in the Inquisition. Rather than delving into Isabella's motivations and beliefs, the author was very cautious and assigned most of the responsibility of the persecution and expulsion of Jews on Torquemada and Fernando

Overall, the book was a good introduction to Spanish politics during Fernando and Isabella's reign. However, rather than a complex, ambitious, and far-seeing monarch, this book's Isabella seemed more like an empty vessel, a conduit through we which were able to explore medieval Spain.

3 solid stars and recommended for people who want an introduction to Medieval Spain.