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Review – "The Queen’s Vow" by C. W. Gortner

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

 

C.W. Gortner, Historical Fiction, The Queen's Vow

Book Promo: "The Queen’s Vow" by C.W. Gortner

Synopsis

 No one believed I was destined for greatness.
So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.
Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.
As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.
From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.
Praise for The Queen’s Vow
“A masterwork by a skilled craftsman . . . Make a vow to read this book.”—New York Journal of Books “
A beautifully crafted piece of historical fiction . . . Gortner’s vivid details blend with his deeply intensive research to re-create Isabella and Castile in a way that the reader will find compelling and immersive, bringing not just the Queen but the whole nation to life.”—RT Book Reviews
“A fascinating story . . . Through his creative and spellbinding storytelling, Gortner’s readers 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.”—Wichita Falls Times Record News
“A novel of triumph as Isabella vanquis hes her enemies one by one . . . [She is] a very human and appealing character.”—The Roanoke Times
“Politically charged, passionate . . . [a] well-researched, intriguing historical.”—Bookreporter
About the Author
C.W. Gortner is the author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, The Tudor Secret and The Queen’s Vow. He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has experienced life in a Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall. Half-Spanish by birth, he lives in Northern California.
You can find more information on C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Articles, C.W. Gortner, First Person, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lost in Austen, Point of View, The Queen's Vow, Third Person

The Power of Point of View

A week ago, I started reading The Queen’s Vow by C. W. Gortner about Isabella of Castille.  If you’re not sure who she is, it’s time to dust off your history books or turn to Google.  In any event, I’m enjoying it immensely and am reminded, as I read the story, about how powerful point of view can be in a novel.  Point of view is that decision an author makes before pounding out 80,000 plus words — through whose eyes shall I tell the tale?
As a reader, you probably have a preference when it comes to your own books.  C. W. Gortner writes The Queen’s Vow in the first person — that is through the eyes of Isabella alone. It’s the “I” and “me” take on life.  I’ve only written one story with this point of view, which happened to be my recent contemporary, Conflicting Hearts.  All of my historical fiction and historical romance novels are written in the third-person limited point of view.  In my books I tend to flip in and out of minds with one person at a time switching in scenes and chapters.  I prefer that take rather than the omniscient view of the all knowing god-type author, which takes a bit of skill I think I lack. Third-person works well in a complex story, because it’s here you can tell the tale from everyone’s point of view.  It makes the story richer in certain circumstances.
As I read The Queen’s Vow, I am reminded that first person can be a powerful tool in a novel. In this instance, the author is writing about the life of Isabella from her childhood to adulthood.  Frankly, I don’t think I’d want someone telling me what she’s thinking, because I’m enjoying too much being inside the head of a young woman destined for greatness. Her thoughts and emotions are richly described, as well as her growth process into the woman she is to become. I don’t think any other point of view would make the book as powerful.
Take the picture up above. It’s a scene from Lost in Austen. There is Darcy, Bingley, and snooty Caroline, his sister standing together. Each are gazing at Amanda Price, and all of them at this moment have a distinct thought about the individual who is central to the story.  In this instance, a writer could say that Darcy frowned disapprovingly narrowing his eyes; Caroline gazed pathetically at Amanda making a fool of herself; and Bingley feels quite perplexed not knowing what to think of this woman visiting the Bennett’s household. 
If we crawl into the head of one person, however, let’s say Darcy, we know that something more is brewing inside of him besides the disapproving frown on his face.  He’s going through an inward struggle at this point wondering why he is attracted to a woman who he also despises.  You could write the scene telling your readers what he’s thinking in the third-person point of view, but then you could also crawl into his head, look through his eyes, and exploit his emotions to such an extent it will make a lasting imprint upon your mind as a reader.
Once again, Miss Price has managed to make a spectacle of herself amongst our guests. Her style and mannerisms are so unladylike that I find her disgusting on many levels.  She obviously lacks the genteel character of a demure woman that I seek in a wife. I find her outspoken, boisterous, and brazen behavior a chilling reminder of our difference in class. Even my peers avert her presence as if she is carrying the plague. On the other hand, I struggle with an odd attraction toward her, which I find deeply perplexing.  

What could I possibly find alluring in this creature that I deem so vulgar in speech and conduct?  It cannot be physical attraction, for she is but a plain woman compared to the well-dressed, beautiful ladies that fill this hall.  These carnal inklings cause me to question my sound judgment that I pride. Has she bewitched me?  If I succumb to this demonic temptation, I shall become the laughing stock of society. My status as a respectable aristocrat will come to a ruinous end.

Nevertheless, there she stands. My soul aches with each breath that I take. My heart is laden with heaviness. For at this moment, I earnestly desire to take Miss Price into my arms and silence her wagging tongue with the power of my lips. Surely, it will be a bittersweet taste. Oh wretched woman, what have you done to me? 

Well, we may never know what the wretched woman has done to Mr. Darcy. However, I think you get the drift between the various points of views.  As a reader, do you have a preference?  Do you love the minds of many, or do you prefer the intimate voice of the hero or heroine instead?  I’m beginning to think after I finish my current third-person book, I’ll be back in the first-person mode.


Warm regards,
Vicki

Articles, C.W. Gortner, Historical Fiction, Isabella of Castile, The Last Queen, The Queen's Vow

Historical Fiction with Romantic Elements – Do We Care?

Romance Writer’s of America gives guidelines as to what constitutes the genre of “Romance” and the many sub-genres that go along with it.  It’s basically two points, and I quote:

A central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. 

You get the drift.  Boy meets girl.  They fall in love.  Have a few obstacles along the way, and live happily ever after.  

What about historical fiction with romantic elements?  Are they worth the read too?  If you’re willing to take the “central love story” but not kill the author for the ending, they can be a satisfying read. Not all historical fiction books have happy or optimistic endings. Stories of kings and queens and the people they loved were largely influenced by their inherited duties and roles. Two of Isabella’s daughters, for instance, were married off for political alliances to men in other countries.  One of those daughters was Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

One particular book recently released by C. W. Gortner, The Queen’s Vow, has caught my eye.  It’s about Isabella of Castile as a young woman.  I read an earlier work of his entitled The Last Queen about Joanna of Castile, who was one of Isabella’s daughters who married Philip the Handsome (yes that was his name) the Duke of Burgundy.

A few years ago, I got caught up in Joanna’s story of undying love for her adulterous husband.  Definitely not a happy ending, so don’t put it on your historical romance shelf if you think you’ll throw it against the wall when you read the last page. If you’re curious about her, just Google her name and read her sad story of going mad because of her love for Philip.  And if that piques your interest, there is a wonderful foreign movie, Juana la Loca (Joanna the Mad).  It’s dubbed in English, but well worth the watch.  It’s a difficult movie to find, but I’ve seen a few copies on eBay for sale. There are also clips on YouTube, if you want to check them out.

Well, in any event, I’ve come across another great Virtual Book Tour site that deals exclusively with Historical Fiction.  It’s the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  We will be receiving promotional updates for tours, and I’m going to include them in our blog.  I occasionally read historical fiction, so I may focus on a few of those in my reviews.  There is also an Amazon widget at the bottom of the page that will showcase recent releases or books on tour.

In the end, I will confess that I am more of a realist when it comes to stories. There are many personal reasons in my life that have forged my thinking and writing that way.  My Legacy Series books are historical fiction with romantic elements.  I’ve been crucified a few times over the endings in those books, but I’ve received even more positive responses for writing stories of love that deal with stark realities.

Nevertheless, I thought I would spread our wings and offer you new reads to add to your shelf.  I’ll be reading The Queen’s Vow.  I love the cover.  From what I’ve read, it leans more on the romantic side and Isabella’s love for Ferdinand.  This could prove detrimental to finishing my latest book.

Vicki Hopkins, Author