The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile. C. W. Gortner. Random House Publishing Group. June 2012. 400 pp. ISBN #: 978034552396.
Isabella's initial exposure to politics comes just before the demise of her father, a man who will die from grief after his closest adviser is murdered. At least that is what Isabella's furious mother believes. Standing by her father's deathbed, Isabella is startled to recognize the look of greed on her half-brother Enrique's face, a look that clearly presages the kind of King he will become. For The Queens's Vow is about Isabella's newly found fortitude which will be sorely tested first by her brother, advised by the evil Marquis of Villena, and then as the novel progresses by numerous other so-called "advisers." Sometimes readers may forget that Kings and Queens are human beings with strengths and fragile aspects of personality that shape history for years, if not centuries. We are reminded in this fiction account that women were not expected to be successful rulers, being deemed less possessed of intelligence, capabilities, and skills necessary to accomplish such a daunting task. Isabella is presented as a woman ready to rule wisely and fairly, a woman who learns from her own mistakes.
Before that comes to pass, however, King Enrique seems incapable of fathering an heir while his wife manages to conceive a beautiful girl, much to the delight of court and public gossipers. That wouldn't matter much to Isabella except that the Queen insists her daughter is the heir to the throne and does everything in her power to guarantee that neither Alfonso (Isabella's other brother) nor Isabella will ever rule Castile. Queen Juana's road to perdition makes for tense and riveting reading, supplemented by the increasing notorious influence of the King's own lover.
Isabella's world dramatically alters after she meets Prince Ferdinand of Aragon; they are magnetically connected immediately with a tenderness and passion totally unexpected in the swirls of Court dissension and machinations. Their brief meeting marks the beginning of an eventual marriage of mind and heart that will have its highs and lows but more notably will be marked by the manner in which they treat each other, with respect and equality hardly seen in that particular country or century. Their union continues with the rise of military conflicts and the Church's insistence that an Inquisition be conducted to root out Jewish conversos heretics (and more as Isabella suspects) that is earning Spain divine disfavor. These are just a few of the contentious problems that the couple must deal with as they begin to raise a family and gird Spain for prosperity in years to come!
The Queen's Vow is finely researched and even more finely written! We come to know Isabella intimately in mind, heart, and body as she lives through a tumultuous time, her intense longing to be the determiner of her own unique destiny! Many have been Queens but few manifest the regal qualities that truly define female leaders like this magnificent "Majestad." Phenomenal accomplishment, C. W. Gortner - this novel deserves the highest acclaim!