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Manual The Queens Vow

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While I am a voracious reader of historical fiction, I tend towards the military, action-packed, blood-and-guts tales of Rome, the Civil War or Napoleonic campaigns. I rarely read tales of more court-based life or family sagas. While there are murders and treachery, wars and sieges and violent unpleasant deaths, they are all seen from the perspective of the recipient of their report rather than seen first hand.

This is not meant in any way as a condemnation, just a reporting of the style of the work — the tale, after all, is focused on the great Queen and her struggles in the court. Where this story wins out for me is its style. The tale is evocative of the great dusty, dry world of medieval central Spain, draws the reader into the mindset of an innocent in such a twisted, dangerous world as the Castilian court, and delivers a flavour of the era so clear that the reader can almost taste and smell the world Isabella experiences.

There are elements in there that brought scenes and flashes of great movies to mind for me. Many others. The tale follows the life of Isabella most famously remembered in the company of her later husband Ferdinand from her youth as an exiled royal scion, through all the twists and turns of a royal succession that should be hers, to the final seat of power and consolidation of her throne that comes with an almost unacceptable price. With her beloved Fernando Ferdinand of Aragon by her side she begins to forge a single realm from the fractured states of Spain and a catholic land from a mixed world of Christian, Jew and Moor.

During this era, so many astounding events that have affected the world as a whole took place, and they all have a place in this story: The Reconquista and the fall of Granada — the final expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the patronage of Christopher Columbus and his plan to find a new route to the Indies, the combining of the two great Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile to forge the future nation of Spain, the foundation and growing power of the Holy Inquisition under the dangerous priest Tomas de Torquemada, and the edicts that led to the expulsion of the Jews from the land.

A time of momentous change that saw more upheaval in Spain than any other era, and created the Spain that we know today. You will hear, see, smell, taste and even feel the dry and dangerous world of Isabella, and perhaps even come to understand the hardships that turned the shy Infanta Isabella into the great Queen of history.

On a last word, as an English reader, I sometimes find it jarring when I read historical works by an American writer, as the idioms and common expressions — not to mention spellings — can make the English reader pause and have to make sure of the intended meaning of the sentence.

I expect American readers of English writers have the same issue. All in all, this is not a work to rush through, as much historical fiction is. You could read it fast, but you would probably not enjoy it as much. Most of the value of this work to me was its flavour and feel, and that is powerfully conveyed if you devote enough time to savouring the book.

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However, as an added treat, I had the opportunity last week to pose a few questions for the author, who has kindly answered them for my and your edification:. I found the feminine perspective in the book thoroughly engrossing. How difficult do you find it to write from that perspective, as a male author? Writing from the perspective of another gender cannot be easy, especially when also taking into account the medieval mindset. However, emotion is not defined by gender. We all know longing, desire, hatred, love, fear, ambition, and sorrow.

It is our culture which dictates how we may express ourselves, according to our gender. When I write, I engage in preparatory work that helps me strip aside the layers of societal expectation and experiences that make up who I am, so I can discover how my character will experience her world. It probably helps as well that I grew up in a family of strong women; I often sat mesmerized as a boy, listening to my aunts tell stories, exchange secrets and private sorrows.

Perhaps I absorbed something of the language that women employ. Whatever the case, I find it comes naturally to me. Your descriptive of locations and structures is presented with particular clarity and atmosphere. Have you visited the locations of which you write? I consider travel an essential component of my research.

For me, the experience of seeing the landscape and the places where my characters lived, regardless of how much these may have changed, is invaluable. There are sensory details that books and the internet cannot convey: the color of a sky, the sound of the wind, the shape of a castle as dusk falls. These are the moments that make a story leap to life and I always discover something new and unexpected when I travel, no matter how familiar the country may be to me, as, for example, Spain is.

This is the kind of on-the-ground research I live for! Given the written histories, how far were you obliged to bridge the gap between recorded events and unknown motivations of the people involved? Without it, there is no story. And so we must piece together what we can from extant documentation, chronicles, ambassadorial dispatches, letters and proclamations, as well as the records of council meetings and such.

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I like to say that being a historical novelist is like being part psychologist, part sleuth, part forensic investigator, and part game show host. We have to employ all these different skill sets based on relatively few facts, and figure out what our character was feeling. Sometimes we hit on it, and sometimes we have to guess. I try to be as scientific as possible; I work up a detailed psychological and emotional portrait of my character and do my utmost to discover who she may have been in order to determine how she may have felt about key events. But in the end, I do bridge that historical divide with some degree of educated assumption, grounded in as much factual evidence as I can uncover.

I think I get close but who knows? Gortner, in which he discusses, among many things, his influences and inspirations, his writing predilection for bad or mad queens, and his favourite novels of Many thanks to him for his time. Review Isabella of Castile is one of the most enigmatic female figures of medieval history. Although known as one half of the relationship that united Spain with husband Ferdinand of Aragon and for despatching Christopher Columbus off to new worlds, in her own right she is remembered for her strength and resilience.

Isabella is also, though, cloaked in the blackness of the Inquisition. Her own confessor, Torquemada, was its first Grand Inquisitor. Together they strove to unite the people of Spain by ridding the divided nation of its religious enemies, most notably the conversos — the converted Jews. Isabella, then, is a controversial figure. Sovereign and patron, a Spanish Gloriana, she was also a cruel zealot. What a perfect subject for a novel. This was no mean achievement, not least because of the warring family that surrounded her, waiting for her to falter, Gortner takes us through the events through the eyes of its chief witness, Isabella herself.

Intent on winning — and earning — what is her due, she endures her treatment at the hands of the king, her half-brother Enrique, and his vicious wife. While her own full brother Alfonso becomes a pawn of the warring factions, Isabella is effectively a prisoner due to her sex and potential importance.

As she moves around the castles of hot, arid Spain, receiving reports of battles won and lost, Gortner presents a most vivid portrait of this large kingdom, full of so many different races and religions.

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Quite apart from the dust and hot sun, this novel is ablaze with colour. Gortner also presents the other side of Isabella, the side that falls in love with Ferdinand, prince of the neighbouring, equally troubled kingdom of Aragon. The mix of young love and pride is poignantly depicted. This novel, one of the finest novels I have read in a long time, has changed my approach. Gortner, a male writer, deserves much praise for creating such a believable and realistic female character.

Not only that, he also manages to rewrite Isabella. In an earlier novel, The Last Queen , C. Photo by Stephanie Mohan. Did you have preconceptions about Isabella and, if so, how did they change? Though he or she may have done unimaginable things, the act of judging someone can lead to condemnation and when we condemn someone, we lose our empathy.

The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner | Penguin Random House Canada

That said, some characters are harder to empathize with than others, and for me, at first, Isabella was one of those. Indeed, she always seemed rather fearsome and one-dimensional to me.

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But when I researched her for my first novel about her daughter, The Last Queen , Isabella began to emerge as a more complex, interesting person. When I discovered the dramatic yet relatively unknown tale of how she came to power, I knew I had to build a novel around her. Like most of us, Isabella did not start out as the person she became. Experience moulded her in unexpected ways; yet despite the obstacles she faced, she retained a core inside her that rarely wavered.

She made bold choices, both as a woman and sovereign, in an era when few women could. For better and for worse, she also shaped the world that came after her. My first impression of a fanatic devoted to her faith was transformed by my research, as well. I discovered that while faith was paramount in her life, as it was for most people of her era, who believed survival of the soul after death was far more important than what happened to the body in life, Isabella struggled with what she believed was her sacred duty.

She had doubt. She knew regret. She had great triumphs and made horrifying mistakes. She was, in the end, only human. How difficult was it to put yourself inside the head and aspirations of a teenage girl? You manage it perfectly. For me, writing is much like acting: it transcends the limitations imposed by gender. An actor must strip away his or herself to become the person they are playing and most trained actors will tell you, becoming a man or a woman should be something they can do, if need be.

Of course, actors also require makeup and prosthetics to create a gender illusion: writers, on the other hand, are invisible. Emotions are also without gender.

We all know longing, desire, hatred, love, fear, ambition, sorrow, but society imposes how we must express or not express these emotions, according to our gender. When I write, I engage in initial preparatory work that helps me slough off the layers of societal expectation and experiences that comprise who I am. I just. This period of Spanish history is both luxuriant and dangerous.

The Queen’s Vow

What is it about the time and place that inspires your writing? Those exact words sum it up beautifully: luxuriant and dangerous. Spain is unique among the European countries for its amalgam of cultures, which lasted for so long and shaped society in such marked ways. Spain also was one of the last countries to gain a national status, to become united under one crown.

A Novel of Isabella of Castile

For centuries, its fragmentation into smaller kingdoms was its greatest weakness and conversely its greatest wealth. The land of Spain itself is quite inspiring to me, as well. When I see the land, I see history. Yes and no. As with my other historical characters, I admire certain aspects of her; I like some traits; and deplore others. We have a complicated relationship. She was undoubtedly extraordinary for her time, and conversely, very much a woman who could only have lived in her time.

Will you be returning to her to complete her story? Never say never, as the adage goes, but probably not in the foreseeable future.