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Review: The Last Queen, C.W. Gortner

Juana of Castile never expected to be queen, with an older brother and sister ahead of her.  As a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and thus a Spanish Infanta, she is married to Philip of Flanders, with whom she quickly falls in love.  Juana does not trust her husband’s advisor, and within reason, for when Juana’s brother and sister die, he persuades Philip to seize the Spanish throne for himself.  When everyone around her deserts her, Juana keeps fighting through her despair and her determination is creatively interpreted as madness by all those who have greater designs on her throne and no interest in the woman who should hold it.

I have never really known much about Juana.  She is just outside my time period and just outside my geographical sphere of knowledge.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to have read this novel.  Juana is a fiery character and I knew little about her quirks.  I love how she grows from girl to woman over the course of this book.  Her voice is strong and believable and to be honest, I can hardly believe a man wrote this book!  Since I didn’t know what happened, I had a rare opportunity to let the plot of a historical novel really take over and I can say that this book doesn’t fail at all in that respect either.  It was wonderful and I think it still would have been even if I’d known how it ended.

Knowing full well the ways in which medieval and early modern figures manipulated heirs to make their way to a throne, I had no trouble at all imagining that Juana’s madness was a convenient foil.  It would be nothing new.  I found the way the author used known events and cast them in a different light to be extremely creative and appealing, like her reasoning for staying outside for several days in winter and taking her husband’s coffin with her well beyond when he should have been buried.  So many people let Juana down, most notably her father and her husband.  She was determined to secure the throne for her son, Charles, and did not back down even when these men did their best.  Is it any surprise that they attempted to cast her aside?

I’ve never been to Spain, but I could almost picture it in this book.  I want to go now and I want to learn more.  That, more than anything, is the mark of a great historical fiction novel for me.  This is an extremely enjoyable book and one that I would certainly recommend.

The Last Queen is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.  You can also check out C.W. Gortner’s website, blog, and tour stops.

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