The life of royalty is akin to playing a game of chess. Kings, queens, bishops, and plenty of pawns fill the pages of The Queens’s Vow. As a child in school, history happened to be the subject I hated the most. However, give me a good book and an intriguing story, and you’ve won me over. On the pages of a textbook the facts of kings and queens could put you asleep, but in the hands of C. W. Gortner, they keep you highly engaged turning pages in anticipation of what is ahead.
The Queen’s Vow focuses upon the young Isabella of Castile starting at the age of three and continuing onward through adulthood. It begins with the sad reality that the death of a monarch can suddenly leave a wife and his children relegated to poverty far away from the throne. In this instance, Isabella’s half-brother, Enrique, rules Castile. He is married to an unfaithful wife with ambitions for her daughter, who everyone believes is the product of an affair and not of the king’s loins.
The early years of Isabella’s life, with her less than emotional stable mother and younger brother, fill the first few chapters. However, when she and her brother, Alfonso, are finally called to court by their half-brother, you sense the fear of the unknown. Welcomed by the king, but their presence unwanted by the queen, the two of them suddenly become pawns in everyone’s plans for the realm. However, it’s here that Isabella knows without a doubt that one day she is destined for greatness.
Drowning in a court with unscrupulous advisers and rampant immorality, Isabella finds the court to be a dreadful place. The one bright moment, however, is her introduction to Fernando, Prince of Aragon, who at the age of 12 has led armies into battle. She dismisses him as a boy, even though he speaks of marriage like a man. In his mind, they are destined to be together, and when he departs for Aragon to return to his father, he merely writes for her to wait for him. And wait for him she does – for years.
The book is filled with twists and turns and the ups and downs of Enrique’s rule, Isabella’s favor from the king and subsequent displeasure, along with the characters who play the game of chess behind the scenes. She matures into a strong woman who faces her future with braveness. I, on the other hand, count my lucky stars for having not been born royalty in an age such as this when the ambitions of others could very well threaten your livelihood and your life. There is an underlying fear of betrayal and captivity that is unsettling in Isabella’s journey to the throne that lasts for quite some time. Finally, in her late teens, she is reunited with Fernando, who she marries against the king’s wishes. The act sets into motion an upheaval that eventually leads her to the throne of Castile.
Though we often read of the conquests of kings and queens in their adulthood and later years, it’s not often we can journey with them on their way to the throne. Of course, if you know your history, Isabella is not without her questionable acts later on in her reign, which are alluded to in the story when a man of the cloth tells her that she’s been chosen by God to clean the land of its wickedness.
C.W. Gornter is an engaging and intelligent author who takes his readers into the world of history-making everything come alive. From the descriptive scenery of Castile to the moldy and musty-smelling castles, the book breathes life on every page. As an author myself, I find his style and writing highly engaging.
I highly recommend The Queen’s Vow for anyone looking for a great historical fiction of a famous queen, sprinkled with the love of her husband, Fernando. I found the story extremely intriguing from her childhood to the coronation and her early years of rule. However, when Jewish persecution and the Spanish Inquisition were initiated at the persuading of others, I found my interest waning in the book.
I think that relates back to the bad taste in my mouth left by a profoundly disturbing movie – Goya’s Ghosts. Perhaps I had high hopes for Isabella and Fernando because I enjoyed their characters early on but found fault in their actions later in their rule. The author, who did a great job creating living and breathing reincarnations of kings and queens, brings you to a place of being intimately acquainted with these historical characters. That is a mark of a good writer, especially when their actions bring you disappointment — you almost take it personally.
On a side note, for my historical romance readers, there are fleeting portions of romance within the book. Nevertheless, I rate it a Four-Star – Princess of a Charming Story (even though it’s about a Queen).
Reviewed by Countess Victoria