Review: The Queen’s Vow – C.W.Gortner

One of the odd things through the year for me is receiving books, unannounced, from publishers who hope for kind words about a book. They’ll often be from a publisher I don’t have any involvement with (like this: Hodder), from people I’ve never met, and with books from people I don’t know, haven’t met, and probably never will. Log-rolling a friend this ain’t!

CW Gortner is one such. He is, apparently, half-Spanish and spent his childhood in Spain, although he now lives in the US. He has published some books which have received great acclaim, and they are published in 14 languages ( I picked all that up from the PR material). However, his book – a weighty tome, as these all appear to be nowadays – is being heavily promoted. Once assumes Hodder spent a lot buying in the book!

I picked it up with trepidation, wondering whether it was worth the investment of time – and I’m glad I did.

First, the period: it is set in the 1400s, in a time of great unrest. Spain doesn’t exist: Aragon, Castile and other kingdoms and principalities are independent, and they are all prey to stronger neighbours (including France). When King Juan II of Castile dies, his young daughter, Isabella, finds that her life immediately changes. Her half-brother, Enrique IV, son to Juan by his first marriage, inherits the throne, but politics are confused. He has no child, so Isabella’s young brother Alfonso becomes the first in line to the throne in the event of Enrique’s death. And this would be well, were his wife, Juana of Portugal, not quite so determined and ambitious. She wants to ensure her own line is secured. Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that Enrique was gay and unwilling, or unable, to give her a son.

At first all seems well, until the day that Juana brings a child into the world. Then the politics become very confused.

The period detail is all very convincing; the setting, which could (should) be thoroughly head-spinning, is depicted simply and effectively; the characterisation is, to be frank, superb. The different people are superbly well-described, and although some feel two-dimensional, the main characters are all wonderfully rounded, from the gay Enrique, the main character Isabella and the marvellous Archbishop Carrillo. However, all are put into the background by the horrible, repellent character of Torquemada, who is made as repulsive as the chief instigator of the Inquisition should be.

These were days of civil war, of famine, of deceit, of terror and torture. There were appalling horrors with the beginning of the Inquisition, famines, the plague, and war. And yet they were days of hope and foresight. Under the enlightened rule of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, this period saw a radical lurch towards modernity. There was culture, art, and a boom in wealth as the sponsorship of  Columbus leads to the discovery of the new world.

It’s a marvellous story, and one that is superbly told. If I have a criticism, it is that (with a young daughter) the depiction of the infanta Isabella as an early teenager is not entirely believable, and there is a little too much romance in the middle of the story as Isabella discovers the pleasures of marriage with her husband Ferdinand, but these are niggles and minor compared with the sweep of a story that covers so much ground in 360 odd pages. A more serious complaint is, that the cover makes this look like a romance-only. Yes, there is some romance in it, and if I was looking for a book on the shelves, I’d probably avoid this cover. Which is a shame. I’d be missing a brilliant read. The cover should have a woman Joan of Arc-like, clad in steel, with a scene of ships on a storm-tossed sea behind, perhaps images of tortured victims of the autos de fe. There was so much that could have been made of this cover – but instead a simple, attractive shot of a blonde woman in a crown was chosen. It was a cheap option and not a good one. It reminds me of my own personal most-loathed cover, the poor-quality picture of a crossbow that adorned The King of Thieves in hardback. Truly dreadful – but I’ll kick that soap-box aside.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history novels with the smell of the period rising from every page. It’s gritty, often violent, but most of all, it’s a fascinating, gripping read.

And so to the final point: I have been allowed two copies of the paperback version of this book to go to the first two people who can get to me with the answer to a simple question: what was the name of Isabella’s father. Yeah, not the most difficult question in the world! Sadly, because of the costs of postage, this is an offer to UK readers only. Apologies to all those in the US who read this blog.

Write with your answers to Michael.Jecks@gmail.com, giving your answer to the question and I’ll write to the two who have won to get their addresses. The names (not addresses) of the winners will be put in the comments section of this post.

Happy reading!

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Comments
5 Responses to “Review: The Queen’s Vow – C.W.Gortner”
  1. C.W. Gortner says:

    Thank you, Mr Jecks, for this truly erudite and thoughtful review. I am a fan of your work, so this is an honor. I also had to chuckle at the cover comments; authors don’t have much say in these matters, do we? Regardless, I am so delighted you enjoyed the book and I sincerely hope your readers will, as well. With my best regards!

    Like

    • Hi – and thank you for an excellent read. I’m going to have to get hold of your backlist. Excellently researched, and what a fabulous story! I hope to be able to ‘follow’ you on Twitter soon – just now I’m not being allowed to increase the number I’m following – again! Best of luck with the book (I’m saying nothing about the cover!) and I’m sure you’ll have fabulous sales. Hopefully one day we can even meet!

      Like

  2. King Juan thesecod of castille great review.

    Like

  3. Meant the second.

    Like

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