Gortner does a nice job portraying a complicated and often contradictory monarch, Isabella of Castile. Many readers may already know her as half of the pair that sent Christopher Columbus across the ocean, or as the mother of Catherine of Aragon. But I hadn’t realized how much more there was to her legacy, including reconquering parts of her kingdom from the Moors, uniting Spain, and reigniting the Inquisition. Not only did she struggle to maintain her rights of succession, but once on the throne, she had difficulty holding on to her position. Despite numerous hardships, she managed to strengthen Spain and enable it to become a formidable empire.
Because this book is set from the time of her childhood through 1492 (she lived until 1504), I felt that I missed out on some of the most important years of her reign. She didn’t even ascend to her throne until more than halfway into the novel. While this effectively depicts the continuing power struggle for her succession, the first two hundred plus pages were mildly tedious and redundant. The most significant thing during this period was her marriage to Ferdinand (Fernando) of Aragon. They were lucky enough to have a love match, but even their marriage had its difficulties. Once they are crowned, though, the pace of the novel really picked up with battles against the Moors and issues about loyalty and religion. I especially enjoyed her encounters with the charismatic Christopher Columbus (Colon). I just wished the narrative carried on a little further so I could witness his exploits and her reaction to them. But that could easily be an entire other novel. Overall, though, this book illustrates the demands put upon her and the complex decisions she had to make. Despite her compassion for her subjects, religion and the state of her peoples’ souls was more of a driving factor during her rule.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.