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.
(Summary from Goodreads)
Two things about The Queen’s Vow stood out to me right away: the setting and Isabella’s voice. I got the sense right away that I would see a quiet sort of strength from Isabella, which are exactly the sorts of characters I love. I also knew the setting, Castile, would be very atmospheric, and I wasn’t disappointed in this. Castile came to life, making it easy to see why Isabella would fight so fiercely for it.
Isabella was a complex character. In the first part of the book, she’s torn between doing her duty and doing what she wants – although what she wants isn’t clear initially because she probably isn’t even sure what she wants, since she’s always been told what to want. I loved watching her journey toward figuring that out. And once she did figure out what she wanted, she wasn’t afraid to fight for it, while still being concerned about her people. I found her internal conflict about instating the Inquisition and expelling the Jews to be especially compelling, and I really wish the Inquisition had been played up more since it was such a big deal. In this book, it mostly sat in the background of the main conflict of retaking Castile. I feel like the Inquisition is wrapped up pretty closely in everything else that was going on, so it would’ve been nice to see, especially more of the consequences of Isabella agreeing to it.
The other characters were pretty well-defined, also, especially Fernando, who had the whole male superiority thing going on, yet had a lot of respect for Isabella. I also loved Isabella’s relationship with her younger brother, Alfonso, although I do wish her relationship with her older brother, Enrique, could’ve been developed better, especially since she spends so much time in conflict with him. I think that could’ve added to the tension since initially Isabella tried to get along with Enrique.
One major issue I had with the book was how much time it covers. The book starts in Isabella’s early years with her struggle first to survive at Enrique’s court, then to escape it and live life on her own terms. Once that happens, though, and she becomes queen, the book completely shifts tone and focus to her struggle to unite Castile in the midst of civil war, as well as reclaim lands in Granada from the Muslims and remake Castile as a Catholic kingdom. It really felt like two entirely separate books, and I feel like it might’ve been better if it had been that way, especially since there was so much that could be added to both halves of the book.
If you’re interested in oft-vilified lady historical figures and you’re looking for a more sympathetic portrayal of them, The Queen’s Vow is a good example.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars