Isabella of Castile is not expected to rise to greatness. Not only does she have an older half-brother, but she also has a younger full brother, and both are ahead of her in the line to the throne. But when crisis strikes her family and plunges Castile into civil war, Isabella finds herself fighting to claim the throne for herself and her own descendants. Alongside her is Fernando, heir to Aragon, and her chosen husband, even when her family wishes for her to marry someone else. Throughout Isabella’s struggles, one thing is always for certain, and that is her goal to do her best for her people.
Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon are historical figures that are familiar to most American children (and likely plenty of others as well); they financed Columbus’s journey to “the New World” and, as much as I dislike what ensued from that journey, it’s taught to us from a very young age. As I grew older, I learned more about them. They unified a Christian Spain on something of a crusade and set off the Inquisition, an infamous institution throughout the early modern era. They’re fascinating figures, and Isabella herself is a perfect candidate for a historical fiction novel.
Fortunately, C.W. Gortner sticks to his excellent record and does Isabella justice. Gortner is one of those authors who can always remind me why I’ve spent so much of my life so far reading historical fiction. He really brings Isabella and her world to life, fully fleshing out her character and spending just the right amount of time on descriptions of the world around her and the events that shape her personality. Starting from a young age and going right up until she is the mother of several children, Gortner captures a huge chunk of Isabella’s life and explores how she might have felt over a number of both traumatic and inspiring events.
Before going into this particular book, I really wondered how Gortner was going to handle Isabella’s strict Catholicism. It’s very widely recognized that the Inquisition, and religious persecution in general, is an atrocity that practically everyone reading this review will wish was consigned to the distant past. He handles this with a delicate touch; Isabella regrets what she is doing and is forced into it by essentially riots. In order to satisfy the majority, she has to persecute the minority. I’m not sure how accurate this is in terms of real life, but it is a way of getting around this issue.
Another delicately handled situation is Fernando’s infidelity. Powerful men have received a pass on cheating for most of history, and Isabella’s husband isn’t an exception to this rule. How she deals with it is I feel surprisingly realistic, and I liked that Gortner didn’t invent fidelity when it was incredibly unlikely.
All things considered, The Queen’s Vow is a fantastic portrayal of Isabella of Castile, the story of a girl who grows into medieval Spain’s greatest queen, and an excellent book besides. Very highly recommended to those who enjoy historical fiction.
I received this book for free for review. All external book links are affiliate links.