The Last Queen: A Novel
ISBN 978-0-345-50184-4, $25.00, Tentative Release date July 29, 2008
Reviewed by Jen Cardwell for Reader Views 04/08
Juana La Loca
C.W. Gortner’s “The Last Queen: A Novel” has all of the hallmarks of the typical historical fiction novel that is so popular today. Juana is a passionate woman who strongly desires her husband; she is a strong woman who is furious – and shows it – when her husband is unfaithful to her; she is a politically savvy woman; she is thwarted by the men around her at every turn; she is deeply maternal and, in opposition to the culture of the day and in the shock and dismay of all those around her, chooses to nurse at least some of her children herself. Change the name, “Anne, Mary, Catherine, etc.” and you could be talking about the main character in the vast majority of historical fiction about women written today, women written to appeal to the modern sensibilities of their readers.
Although Gortner follows all of the formulas, he managed to avoid making this book formulaic. The story of Juana of Castile is a very dramatic and tragic one: Juana is married against her will to the heir of the Hapsburg empire. She loves him dearly at the beginning of their marriage, but as political circumstances between her husband and her parents deteriorate, so does their relationship. Her husband is an ambitious man and is determined to be named heir to her parents’ Spanish empire. Gortner let the story stand on its own merit and did not attempt, as so many historical novelists do, to imbue an already dramatic story with melodrama.
Normally when reviewing historical fiction, I feel it is possible to give more of the plot without worrying about spoilers, so long as the plot follows historical events. However, Juana of Castile, also known as Juana la Loca is quite an under-studied historical figure, and her story will be unknown to many people. Suffice as to say that Gorton tells Juana’s story in such a riveting way that I could scarcely put the book down to eat, sleep, and work. The only reason it fell short of the 5 star mark is because he indulges in the love scenes so prevalent, and in my opinion so unnecessary, in current historical fiction. But for that this book would have been nearly perfect. I very strongly recommend “The Last Queen” to anyone with an interest in historical fiction, you will not be disappointed.
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