I first heard of this book last July and immediately added it to my (obnoxiously long) TBR list … where it languished along with the other 400+ titles I intend to read someday. Then in May of this year author CW Gortner contacted me to ask if I was interested in reviewing his book. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Of course I was interested! I finally had a chance to pick it up on my way back from Disney World and I blew through it in just a few days.
About The Book
Have you ever heard of Juana la Loca, the Mad Queen of Spain? She is the one who supposedly loved her husband so much that she went crazy and later traveled the countryside with his corpse. I remember reading about her in a novel about Catherine of Aragon – that was the first time I realized they were sisters. For those of you who watch the Showtime series “The Tudors” you may remember Juana’s son, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Many historians agree that she had schizophrenia, but what if she didn’t? Some modern scholars think she may have suffered from some form of depression (you can read a bit about it here) and this idea seems to be gaining support.
Author CW Gortner tells us Juana’s story through her own eyes, from her childhood on Crusade with her parents Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, to her life in Flanders as wife of the Hapsburg Prince Phillip the Fair, to her return to Spain and eventual imprisonment there.
I LOVED this book. I was completely drawn in to Juana’s life. I could see how she progressed from child to young lady to a seemingly crazy woman ... and I suspect that many women would have done the same in her place. The author did an excellent job creating a character that was both believable and true to history.
The supporting characters are well written too, although there is not as much focus on them.
I really appreciated the author’s note at the end in which Gortner describes the “true” history of Juana and details the modifications he made in his novel. Personally I think every historical fiction novel should have this kind of note. He also talked about what happened next in Juana’s life, filling in many of the details I wondered about at the close of the story. It was a very satisfying end to a very satisfying book.
One other thing I want to mention is that I did have to modify my opinions of Ferdinand and Isabella, and Charles V after reading this book. Textbooks and films usually present only one side of a historical figure so the more you learn, the better your perceptions can be. And boy, did I learn a lot of history from this book! These were not always the friendly and supporting rulers they are often made out to be … not by a long shot.
I don’t think there is a single complaint I can make about this book, and that is really saying something.
My copy of the book included a fascinating interview with the author and a reading group guide as well. If your book club is historically minded, this might be an excellent choice for your group to read. It could spark great discussions about the reliability of historical records, the treatment of women in history, and also the changes in thought regarding mental illness. Unfortunately my book club would never vote to read this … most of them are anti-historical-novel people. Too bad for me, because this was a great book.
Gortner is currently working on a novel about Catherine de Medici … and you can bet that I will be picking that one up as soon as it is available! Catherine is a fascinating woman and if this new book is anything like THE LAST QUEEN then it will be fabulous.
If you’ve reviewed this book I’d love to add a link to your post here.