The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
Ballantine Books/Historical Fiction
365 pages, including afterword
The scent of jasmine washed over me. Above, a sickle moon hung suspended in a dazzling spangled night. I heard water spill from the stone lions ringing the fountain; my feet soaked in the waterways as I slowly turned about to stare at the Alhambra's curving arches, the intricate pediments and sculpted marble.
The silence was a presence. Everything had changed. This world I loved so much, it would not mourn me. It would not even feel my absence. It would continue on, agelessly indifferent in its beauty, its walls absorbing the echoes of its departed.
I felt Soraya at my side. As her hand enfolded mine, I let my tears fall in furious silence.
What led you to pick up this book? I love historical fiction and jumped at the chance to review the book for a book tour.
Summarize the plot without giving anything away. The Last Queen is the story of Juana of Castile, also known as "Juana the Mad" and the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne of Spain. It tells of her life from adolescence to the time of her death.
What did you like most about the book? The sense of time and place. I thought the author did a beautiful job of describing Spain and other places Juana lived and traveled. One gets not only a sense of what it must have been like living during this time period, but also of the pressures of royalty, the intrigue and danger. It reminded me of one of my favorite memoirs, Autobiography by Benvenuto Cellini. One minute the heroine is living the high life in velvet, eating off a gold plate, and the next minute she's imprisoned in a dark room with guards at the door, without even the option to bathe.
What did you think of the characters? The Last Queen is packed with perfectly crafted characters, believable and often frightening in their vagaries and sinister ways. Juana, her mother Isabel and the women close to Juana were my favorites. I loved the author's descriptions of their strength and resilience. I thought it was perfectly conceivable that Juana's "madness" was simply a ploy to remove her from power.
Describe your favorite scene: I loved the scene in which a pregnant Juana escapes from one of her many imprisonments on horseback.
Recommended? Yes, absolutely. Whether or not you know the time period, the book is accessible and an engrossing, often adventurous read. I enjoyed the emotional tug, as Juana often loved deeply without being truly loved in return. One could not easily leave this book without feeling sympathy for Juana.In general: I often mention that I'm not knowledgable about history and this is yet another case in which I went into another historical time period with little knowledge or understanding of historical facts. The Last Queen has an ease and flow that made even the political maneuvering readily understandable. There are some graphic sex scenes, so I don't consider the book family friendly, but I thought they all fit within the framework of the novel. The author mentions that some of the most exciting scenes did, in fact, take place.