Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner

Aging sucks: I've corrected the publisher on this book, which I looked at without bothering to hold the book far enough away to actually focus.

The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
Copyright 2008
Ballantine Books/Historical Fiction
365 pages, including afterword
Author's website

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.


  1. Not family friendly!! I'm not familiar with this time period either (haven't even heard of Juana), but it sounds like a great read. I do like historical fiction, but for some reason don't read a ton of it. Not really sure why. Thanks for the great review.

  2. Trish,

    That just means I wouldn't shove it into my kid's hands and say, "You've got to read this!" (because of the sex scenes). It's a terrific read.

    I've always read historical fiction, but I spread it out enough that it wasn't till recently that I realized I've read quite a bit, over the years, and a large number of my all-time favorite books just happen to be historical novels. Isn't that funny? Didn't even know it. LOL

  3. I think Juana's a really interesting character. Does he portray her madness well? Does he mention her carrying around her husband's coffin for years?

  4. Tammy,

    I think the author does a good job of explaining the possible basis for madness and portraying some moments when she seems to totally lose it, but also showing that it's equally plausible that she was not entirely "mad" but a victim of a political ploy. Yes, he does portray her dragging that coffin around (and, at one point, opening it -- yeeeuck).

  5. I read a book awhile back called The Scroll of Seduction by Gioconda Bell. In part, it was about Juana "The Mad". That was the best part of the book. The other subplot was a little more icky to me. About a professor and his student. Didn't care much for that part of it!

    Nice review!

  6. Stephanie,


    I can just imagine where the professor and student bit goes. Juana definitely is a fascinating character and The Last Queen really gives you a sense of the huge challenges she faced, life as royalty in the Middle Ages . . . a frightening time. If you're interested in reading more about her (fictionalized, but based on plenty of research), I definitely recommend reading this book.

  7. Thanks so much to Bookfoolery for this marvelously insightful look at my novel. I'm delighted and honored by all the enthusiasm THE LAST QUEEN has been getting from readers. As part of my virtual blog tour this month, I'll stop by regularly to answer any comments or questions you may have.

    With my warm regards, C.W. Gortner

  8. I'm definitely adding this one to my TBR list. I love historical fiction and would love to read some about Juana.

  9. C.W.,

    Thanks for dropping by! It's fairly quiet in the blog world, this week, but I'll ask people on my listservs if they have any questions for you. I really enjoyed your book!


    Oh, good, I'll want to hear your thoughts, when you get around to reading! I think The Last Queen beautifully written and Juana is such a fascinating character! I must be in a mood for exclamation marks. LOL (!!!)

  10. Anonymous5:12 PM

    This is one book I've been looking forward to reading very much. There isn't a lot out there about Juana the Mad, fiction or non fiction that I've run across. It's just so odd to me to realize that she was Henry VIII's sister in law.

  11. Carrie,

    I suggest you read the book on vacation. There's an inside joke there, somewhere. :)

    The author mentioned that there's not much out there about Juana the Mad. It does seem odd that she's the sister of Catherine of Aragon, but I will tell you the author did a good job of describing the family connections and why those political marriages (to prevent wars, unite nations, etc.) occurred.

  12. Sounds like my type of book! I'll have to add it to my Christmas wish list. Oh yes...only September, but already thinking of what books to ask for at Christmas time. haha!

  13. Kris,

    It's not too early to start a Christmas list! :) And, yep, I think The Last Queen is one you'd enjoy. You'll have to tell me what you think, after Christmas. We'll just assume someone will get it for you.


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