The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

>>  Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner (Rated: S)
Ballantine Books
ISBN: 978-0-345-50185-1
Published May 5, 2009
Trade Paperback, 400 pages

With his debut novel The Last Queen, author C.W. Gortner has painted a powerful, moving and haunting portrait of Queen Juana de Castile, the last queen of Spain known as Juana La Loca or the Mad Queen. Written in the first person, this book easily transported me into Juana’s world as she tells of her childhood, her tumultuous marriage to Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire and her unexpected and incredible rise to the position of Queen of Spain—a position for which she fought and sacrificed everything.

The Last Queen is a gripping story that takes you by the hand and doesn’t let go until the last page is turned. It is a drama that comes to life under Gortner’s deft pen and meticulous historical research. It is a story of passion, of love for one’s land and people, of longing for love and the innocence of childhood. Ultimately, Queen Juana’s story is a sad one, filled with intrigue, betrayals, and psychological-political battles against power-hungry clergymen, monarchs, and lords. It is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last words.

Gortner’s style of writing is simply beautiful. It drew me in every time I picked up the book. His writing brought the setting and characters to life rendering them vivid and exotic and very real. Here’s an example from page 27: The Alhambra reclined on its hill, tinted amethyst in the dusk. Above its towers, the sky unfurled like violet cloth, spangled with spun-glass stars. Sometimes Gortner’s descriptions were utterly breathtaking (I read them twice just to savour them) and his storytelling brilliant, making me keenly feel Juana’s isolation, her heartbreaking separations, and her engulfing desperation.

There are a few explicit but brief sex scenes that thankfully do not use vulgar terms. However, this book isn’t a romance novel and these scenes are not glorified. I admired Juana’s fidelity to her husband, although he did not reciprocate. Gortner skilfully portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of the female monarch and how a man could use his manhood to conquer. But Juana's spirit was not easily broken.

A reader may be sceptical when a man writes in the voice of a woman, but Gortner’s portrayal captured Juana’s feelings, fears and pride so convincingly, I related to her as a woman. The author states in his own words regarding this fact: “I can’t afford to be ambiguous: I must become the person I am writing about and stay true to the facts of her life, even if she does something that I, as myself, would not do.”

I was really taken in by this novel, especially since the topic of losing one’s mind or suffering from extreme mental trauma can be more easily understood given certain circumstances, and Juana's situation was certainly one that could drive a person to insanity. But sometimes, insanity is a matter of perspective. If you like historical fiction, you must add this book to your reading list. It is truly an unforgettable read. For me, Gortner has just become one of my favourite authors.


About the author: 


Half-Spanish by birth, C.W. GORTNER was raised in southern Spain, where he developed a lifelong fascination with history. After holding various jobs in the fashion industry, he earned a MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. He has taught university seminars on the 16th century and women in history, as well as workshops on writing, historical research, and marketing. 

Acclaimed for his insight into his characters, he travels extensively to research his books. He has slept in a medieval Spanish castle, danced in a Tudor great hall, and explored library archives all over Europe. His debut historical novel The Last Queen gained international praise and has been translated into eight languages to date. His new novel, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, will be published on May 25, 2010. He is currently at work on The Princess Isabella, his third historical novel, and The Secret Lion, the first book in his Tudor thriller series,The Spymaster Chronicles. Visit his Website today.


Disclosure: Thank you to C.W. Gortner for sending me this book for review at my request through his Web site. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

5 comments :

Lady Q April 7, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

Great review, Laura! This one has been on my TBR list forever!

bermudaonion April 7, 2010 at 3:24 PM  

I don't think I've read a bad review of this book!

C.W. Gortner April 7, 2010 at 3:37 PM  

Thank you so much, Laura, for this truly lovely review! I very much appreciate it. It's always a delight to know my work has touched a reader.

All best,
C.W.

Laura Fabiani April 7, 2010 at 3:51 PM  

Thanks for your comments!
C.W.- Thanks for visiting my blog. Reading your book was a great experience. I want to visit Spain now and visit all the places I read about.

Muse in the Fog April 9, 2010 at 7:06 PM  

I agree, this was such a beautiful and emotional book. C.W. Gortner has quite a talent! Here is my review of The Last Queen

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