C.W. Gortner’s historical fiction novel The Queen’s Vow is a lavish tale depicting the life of Isabella of Castile. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are mostly remembered for funding the explorer Christopher Columbus, thus expanding the Spanish empire and becoming a legendary part of history. However, as this expansive novel portrays, Isabella’s life and reign were filled with complexity, with Isabella at all times rooted in her belief in God’s will guiding her.
Separated into four parts, the novel follows Isabella from her childhood as the Infanta from Arévalo to the port of Palos in 1492 as she watches Don Cristobal Colon depart Spain for his own epic journey. The story is extensively researched, and Gortner imparts a history lesson without becoming tedious or straying too far from Isabella as the central character of the novel.
Isabella, born to King Juan II of Castile and his second wife, Isabel of Portugal, was never expected to rise to become Queen of Castile. The original heir to the throne, her half-brother, Enrique, was son of Juan II and his first wife. Isabella also had a younger brother, Alfonso, two years her junior, who would be Enrique’s heir. At most Isabella was expected to become a bargaining chip as a bride later in life. However, an unstable country, led by her brother Enrique, changed all of that.
Told exclusively from Isabella’s point of view the reader is taken into the inner workings of a young woman raised to always think of others and always bow to God’s will. From a young age, Isabella must learn to discern God’s will on her own, apart from what advisors and religious leaders believe God’s will to be for her. Isabella is intelligent, cautious and loving; she is shown putting the needs of her family and country before her own.
Gortner doesn’t shy away from the controversial aspects of Isabella’s life, portraying the religious and political reasoning behind the battles against Portugal and Granada. Isabella is reluctant to move against Castile’s Jewish citizens and more temperate than her advisors in her desire to convert Muslim or formerly Jewish citizens, but ultimately Isabella believes the Catholic Church must be followed by all of Castile’s citizens.
Gortner’s novel The Queen’s Vow is a wonderful historical fiction novel. For readers who enjoy the works of Philippa Gregory or reading about royal families, The Queen’s Vow is a must read. Luckily, the paperback version of The Queen’s Vow comes out on July 2, 2013. Pick up a copy here.