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The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile    by C. W. Gortner order for
Queen's Vow
by C. W. Gortner
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2013 (2012)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

C. W. Gortner, author of The Tudor Secret: The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, and The Last Queen (about Juana la Loca, daughter of Isabel of Castille and Fernando of Aragon), now brings us the story of Juana's mother, Queen Isabella.

As children, Isabella and her younger brother Alfonso grow up in near poverty. They and their mother are removed from court life by Archbishop Carillo of Toledo for their own safety after the succession of their half-brother Enrique to the throne of Castile. They grow up in a small castle in Avila, where Isabella's close friend and companion is the reckless Beatriz de Bobadilla. Beatriz craves adventure like the admired Maid of Orléans, while Isabella is more cautious.

When Isabella is fourteen, she and Alfonso are summoned to court by their half-brother, leaving their mother to continue her gradual descent into madness. Enrique and his Portuguese queen have just had their first child, Princess Joanna, though it is generally believed that she is not Enrique's daughter. The realm is in a sad state - its 'treasury is bankrupt, the grandees wield more power than the crown, and the people sow dust and starve.' Isabella will eventually change all that, but she has many obstacles and great danger to overcome to get to that point.

At court, Isabella meets young Prince Fernando of Aragon, her distant cousin, 'his person exuding irrepresible vitality.' He warns her of the perils surrounding her, and seeks to marry her. However, Fernando has his own problems to deal with - a dying mother, an ailing father, and a French invasion army. Isabella must forge her own path through rebellion, treachery and war to achieve her destiny with him.

They do eventually marry and together address the problems in both kingdoms. One in particular is of great concern to Isabella, whose best friend is from a converso family - Jews who have converted to Christianity. Fray Torquemada (infamous for his role in the Inquisition) supports her but demands that she 'wield the sword that will cut out the heart of evil that plagues these domains ... Heresy. It lurks everywhere.' She eventually gives in.

Despite her husband's opposition, Isabella also eventually supports navigator Cristobal Colon's venture across the ocean, that gives Spain a new empire. As always C. W. Gortner gives us an excellent portrayal of this fascinating ruler, who supported both Columbus and the Inquisition. And though I find it hard to believe that she was quite as liberal as she is portrayed here (surely there had to be some underlying religious fanaticism) I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen's Vow. Highly recommended!

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