Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review: The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner

The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Random House 
Pages: 400
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley and finished review copy from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

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.

...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.


The best kind of historical fiction!

I love history, but I'm such a slacker. I don't really have the patience for a lot of non-fiction books, so I usually turn to historical fiction to learn through entertainment. And, of course, this is usually a tricky approach because it is historical fiction after all, and authors have license to stretch the truth or not even really focus on the real historical figures much.

But The Queen's Vow is the absolute PERFECT type of historical fiction! And this is why...

It's like reading a story, but with a smarty pants hat on

The Queen's Vow is Historical fiction with a capital H and you can totally use it as a cheat sheet for learning about Isabella of Castile (don't know her? Yes you do. Think things like Columbus and the Spanish Inquisition).

While there are a few tweaks made with the timeline of events and there's a made up character here and there, by and large the book is accurate enough to quote facts to your friends and family (just remember, there's a lot of controversy about what actually went down at the time, and C. W. Gortner explores a few of the very possible but more sensationalist theories).

And oh boy will you learn a TON of trivia! Schools mostly gloss over Isabella as that lady who sent Columbus to the new world, but my gosh, she was so much more. Isabella had her hands in SO many crazy things. Her life was one giant hopscotch game of war, more war, new wars, old wars, lots of mad dashes in the night, inquisitions, scheming, bribes, and a whole lot of praying.

Not to mention scandal. Do you like gossip? Then you're going to love the scenes with Isabella's odious sister in law.

The best part is that all of this moved along at a pretty quick pace. I was never bored or bogged down with tedious descriptions or long drawn out stuff that I don't care about. C. W. Gortner knows how to prioritize a story and keep things interesting so that I happily read along oblivious to the high page count. I would have even gladly read a few hundred more pages (I'll have to satisfy myself with Gortner's previous work The Last Queen about Isabella's daughter). 

The characters come alive

Ok, I have to get this off my chest first. Isabella is SO lame.

This is maybe a tiny bit spoilery: There's this one point where the evil queen is forcing her to marry this absolutely horrible old man and then right before he's scheduled to pick her up, he DIES! Beatriz, Isabella's incredibly awesome totally getting a sleepover invite maid is all, "Score! Lady, God is totally looking out for you!" and Isabella is all, "Oh no, I am but a mere speck of bland piousness and surely the lord does not even consider me. Plus, I would never wish ill upon another for my own sake." And Beatriz and I are standing there with our jaws to the floor sputtering, "Honey, ding dong the witch is dead! Can we please hold off on the Hail Marys for just a sec and do a happy dance??"

So yeah, Isabella = 0, Beatriz = 500000000000xinfinity. (And this is only a tiny fraction of the awesome points Beatriz earns throughout the book.)

But that was young Isabella. Give her a hundred pages or so and she grows up. She becomes a lot more ruthless and her piousness borders on the crazy dangerous side of things (she thinks she's so innocent, but watch out!). Which, as far as becoming best friends is concerned, Isabella gets a big HECK NO from me (I'm a little afraid of her), but as far as reading about a fascinating woman? Yup, Isabella definitely scores highly in that regard.

She may be irritatingly righteous, rash, and SO judgy, but she's also tenacious and determined to get her way, which is kinda admirable in its own way. And scary. And a heck of a lot of fun to read about. It was so easy to get swept up in the story and Isabella's cause that I was totally fist-pumping and cheering her on, even when I wasn't actually 100% on board with what she was doing. She seems like the type of queen who could inspire lemming-like sacrifices on the strength of her personal conviction alone.

The best part is C. W. Gortner's presentation of her. The whole book is narrated by Isabella, so automatically I was inclined to want to sympathize with her. But, C. W. Gortner doesn't make excuses for her either. Isabella is presented as a woman with hopes and fears and motivations that are left to the reader to decide whether or not she was on the right side of things.

It was almost like, hm, well, have you ever read one of those books that tells things from the villain's point of view and you find yourself coming around to their side of things and hoping the pretty princess eats the poisoned apple? That's what this book felt like to me. I'm not sure I objectively like Isabella (though I can respect a lot about her), and I think she definitely dons the crazy hat at times, but I feel for her.


The Queen's Vow is adult fiction, and while nothing is super graphic, it IS described and Isabella and her husband enjoy one another deeply. Think on the level of Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile, which are billed as YA/Adult crossovers. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether that's too "adult" for them or not, but outside of that, YA historical fiction fans can find much to like in The Queen's Vow.

Bottom line

I've found myself a new historical fiction author to read! And lucky for me, he has already published three other books to keep me occupied until his next release. I have ordered a copy for my library, but mostly I'll be handing it around to adult readers and a few mature YA readers.

This is (regrettably) a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Queen's Vow that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

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  1. Ohh, this sounds perfectly like my cup of tea! I'm really into historicals, but they are often bogged down by these heavy descriptions. The Queen's Vow sounds amazing though, I'll add it to my to be read list!

    1. No bogging down here! Definitely add it to your list :)

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  3. So, can I just say: one of my FAVORITE reviews yet! You made me laugh out loud, and what's more, you absolutely got what I set out to do. I'm sharing this with my agent and publisher. Thank you so very much! I'm honored and delighted that you enjoyed my book.

    1. Thank you! I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed it.

  4. You mentioned scary three times in your review. XD Really curious about this one now. Especially since the author presents her in a balanced way- with her flaws and all. Not a lot of that in historical fiction.

    Great review!

    1. Did I? Jeez, I'm like a broken record! But Isabella IS scary :P I agree, a lot of historical fiction makes you really root for the MC and see them as RIGHT, but not here.

  5. Awesome review....I had to chuckle also at the way the review was written, very refreshing...

  6. This sounds like a great read! I don't know much about Isabella besides the Columbus and Inquisition part that I learned in school. I had no idea that she was a complex character. I'm putting this on my tbr pile. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. That's about where I was with my level of Isabella knowledge. You'll learn SO much more about her, but even better, you'll learn so much about what was happening during that time in the world. I feel a lot more grounded with my level of understanding of that time now.

  7. My kind of book. Great review. I love learning stuff via a fictional story. Never paid attention in history class. Can't wait to get my hands on it. Thanks.

    1. Thank you! I think you'll enjoy this one. You liked the Borgia books by Sarah Poole, right? It was fun seeing some of the people from those books make an appearance here. Really helped tie in my historical "big picture" understanding.

  8. I love Christopher's work. I've read his previous books, and the UPS driver just dropped this one off yesterday. Can't wait to dig in. I love that he writes his novels in ways you can think every word he writes is true.

    1. I love hearing that! This is my first foray into his books, but I am so happy he has a backlist I can explore now and it's great to hear they're stellar.

  9. I'm not surprised you loved the book despite your fear of the main character xD I get how it could be really fascinating and interesting to read. I LIKE characters with a shizzload of flaws who do on-the-fence things that make you think over your stance. The only real drawback is the page count. I don't know if I could last that long with a historical fiction. Maybe, I'll be wrong...

    Also, by the way, because of your Hero's Guide character interview/review I BOUGHT THE BOOK. Read it yesterday, and OH MY WORD. I <3 you for indirectly pushing me to read it.

    1. Yup, you would definitely like Isabella then! She is fascinating. This was pretty exciting historical fiction, if that helps with the page count. I also barely noticed the fact that it was so long. I do love historical fiction, but I like it to be fast and not plodding, so this was perfect for me.

      YAY!! I am SO happy to hear you bought and loved Hero's Guide!!! I have so much love for that book and I am SO happy to hear more people are picking it up.

  10. Even though it's a stand alone, I'm happy it was great. I'm finding I love historical fiction more and more - when it's done right of course. Thanks for the recommendation!

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

    1. This is definitely an example of historical fiction done right. I hope you enjoy it! :)

  11. I will most definitely be reading this. I don't know much about Isabella, but I'm totally on board with historicals around kings and queens. Plus, you make it sound awesome (as usual) and you've never steered me wrong.

    PS - How's Texas? I miss you and am sorry I am a slacker bloggy buddy.

  12. I'm not sure if this one will be my type of book. Sometimes historical fiction surprises me though. I recommended it to my sister. She recently discovered that she likes this genre. And what do you mean "regrettably" this one is a stand alone. I say you should cheer instead, a great stand alone is a challenge to find these days. They are almost becoming obsolete.


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